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BOOK ONE “The warrior who sold his sword”
BOOK TWO “The warrior who gained a sword”
BOOK THREE “The Walking Stone”
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2004 by The Redwall La Dita Co., Ltd.
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Electronic edition: August, 2005
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Mariel of Redwall
Martin the Warrior
Outcast of Redwall
Pearls of Lutra
The Long Patrol
The Legend of Luke
Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
The Angel’s Command
Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales
The Great Redwall Feast
A Redwall Winter’s Tale
The Tale of Urso Brunov
Redwall Map and Riddler
Redwall Friend and Foe
Build Your Own Redwall Abbey
Tribes of Redwall: Badgers
Tribes of Redwall: Otters
For Tim Moses,
a colleague and a great friend.
Thank you for everything.
My name is Melanda. I am the youngest creature ever to be appointed to the position of Recorder at Redwall Abbey. My teacher and mentor is a kind old mouse called Sister Screeve. She has retired from being Recorder now, taking up the job of Assistant Gardener to Brother Demple, a remarkable feat for one who has seen so many seasons come and go. She was the one who suggested that I should write a volume for our Abbey Archives about the time we now refer to as “The Seasons of the Savage”—a fearsome title, I grant you, but one that I felt was appropriate to this narrative. I was not born at the time, so my research into the happenings was both long and painstaking. However, now that my work is completed, I would like to thank everybeast who contributed by providing their recollections of those harrowing events—all of the Redwallers, hares of the Long Patrol Regiment and others too numerous to cite here. I will not mention specific names lest I cause any offence by forgetting to include any one of my contributors.
My narrative tells of a time when our Abbey was in peril from a beast none had ever encountered in Mossflower Country, a brutal and horrific barbarian on an insane quest for power and vengeance. But I will tell you no more than that for the present. I leave you to read on and judge for yourselves, my friends.
Melanda. Recorder of Redwall Abbey
in Mossflower Country
“The warrior who sold
Rakkety Rakkety Rakkety Tam,
the drums are beatin’ braw.
Rakkety Rakkety Rakkety Tam,
are ye marchin’ off tae war?
A warrior from the borders came,
a buckler o’er his shoulder,
a claymore swingin’ at his side,
there’s no’ a beast who’s bolder!
O Rakkety Tam has sold his sword,
Ah scarce believe he’s done it.
He swore an oath untae a fool,
who took his pledge upon it!
Shrieking like a thousand wild eagles, the blizzard drove mountainous grey, white-crested waves before it. The powerful ship thundered southward—mast timbers groaning, rigging lines thrumming and sails stretched to bursting point—leaving behind it the lands of ice and snow. A murderer was pursuing a thief. Gulo the Savage was hunting down his brother, Askor!
Lightning ripped through the racing stormclouds, illuminating Gulo’s questing eyes. His fearsome claws, still stained with the blood of his father, dug deep into the bowrail as he peered out across the watery wilderness of peaks and valleys. Only he who had possession of the Walking Stone could rule the land of snow and ice. The once mighty Dramz had held it, this miracle which had been brought from the places beyond where the sun sets. He had also been the one who had set down the law: Only the strong would inherit the Walking Stone. None was stronger than Gulo. To prove this, he had slain his father. But Askor, his brother, had stolen the Stone. Then, like a coward, he had taken to the Great Northern Sea to escape the wrath of Gulo the Savage!
With a hundred vermin warriors at his command, Gulo took up the chase in his big ship—though, in reality, he needed none to protect him. Strongest of the strong and wildest of the wild, Gulo could face daunting odds and emerge victorious. All his foes had fallen victim to his maniacal rage and awesome strength. He had but one remaining enemy in the world—his own brother. Gulo would not rest until he had sent Askor to Hellgates and had seized the all-important symbol of power, the Walking Stone!
Leaping and rearing like a wild stallion, the vessel plunged onwards. It would journey, untamed, running in sync with the surging currents—away from the land of ice and snow to warmer, more temperate coasts. Down to its fearless navigator’s final destination . . . the very shores on the borders of Mossflower Country, where creatures dwelt who knew nought of what lies beyond the cold Northern Sea but were soon to witness the sight, the might and the ferocity of the beast known as Gulo the Savage!
In the course of a single night, winter folded the land into its earth-numbing embrace. Snow, that silent invader, fell deep and soft upon Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Country. Abbot Humble rose early from his bed in the cellars, as he always did, no matter what the season. The old hedgehog had ruled as Father Abbot for a long time. It still bemused him that he was the one chosen by all Redwallers as their leader. Humble had been a Cellarhog, born to the task, with an unsurpassed knowledge of ales, wines and cordials. Nobeast was more surprised than he, when two seasons after the passing of Abbess Furtila, the Council of Elders, backed by unanimous approval, had elevated Humble to the lofty position—Father Abbot of Redwall.
It had taken lengthy persuasion before the modest old Cellarhog accepted his new role and, even then, only under his personal conditions. He would never forsake his beloved cellars—all those barrels, kegs, casks and firkins filled with the good beverages. Having created, nurtured and cared for them, Humble would not hear of coming to live upstairs. The saying at Redwall was “Humble is as Humble does.” By choice, the cellars remained his home. Old habits die hard, they say. This was clearly the case with Humble. Even to this day, his first chore on rising was to check his cellars before tending to his business as Abbot.
Raking out the ashes from his little forge, Humble stoked up the burning embers with judicious amounts of broken barrel staves, seacoal and charcoal. He ambled around his cellarstock—tapping, wedging and checking the barrels. Satisfied, Humble looked in on Burlop, the present Cellarhog, whom he had trained up for the job. The stout young Cellarhog was still sleeping peacefully in a truckle bed tucked beneath an alcove. Humble smiled as he covered Burlop’s footpaws with the eiderdown. Burlop was a good beast—trustworthy, diligent and strong as an oak. The Abbot took comfort in knowing that the cellars were safe in his care. Instinct told Humble that snow had fallen outside. He took a warm homespun cloak from the peg behind the door and left to make his way upstairs.
Friar Glisum was another early riser. The fat dormouse looked up from his work as the Abbot entered the kitchens. He waved a floury paw. “G’morning, Father. Snow’s thick on the ground outside.”
Humble returned the greeting as he stirred a cauldron of steaming oatmeal and began ladling out two bowlfuls. “Morning, Glis. I’ll take a spot of breakfast up to the east nightwatch, with your permission.”
The friar spooned honey over one bowl for Humble. He gave the other bowl a generous dash of hotroot pepper from a gourd shaker, murmuring half to himself, “Carry on by all means, Abbot. I’ve put hotroot on Skipper’s oatmeal; he sprinkles it on everything. Oh, wait a moment, I’ll add some nutmeg to it.”
He grated the sweet, pungent spice over the bowl and stirred it in, winking mischievously. “There, that’ll keep the plank-ruddered rogue guessing!”
Humble left the kitchens, carrying a tray loaded with both oatmeal bowls, a small basket of hot hazelnut toast and two beakers of steaming coltsfoot and comfrey tea.
It was snowing heavily and still dark outdoors. Humble’s sandalled paw printed tracks into the pristine surface of the white carpet as he rounded the south gable. Chuckling, he recalled his Dibbun days. (“Dibbun” is the name conferred upon all Abbeybabes.) He remembered dashing out into the first snow, with his little pals, to see who could make the first pawprints.
On top of the east wall’s broad ramparts, Skipper of Otters stood cloaked, warming his paws at a fire in a strapped iron brazier. Turning, he spotted the figure with the tray, illuminated in a shaft of golden light from one of the rear Abbey windows. Blowing snowflakes from his lips, the burly otter shouted, “Ahoy, who goes there—friend, foe or food?”
Abbot Humble’s cheery reply rang back at him. “ ’Tis a friend, and bearing breakfast. Permission to come up?”
Skipper stamped his paws, chortling happily. “Come on aboard, matey, afore I perish from ’unger!”
Bounding down the wallsteps, he took the tray from Humble, cautioning him, “Mind yore step, Father. ’Tis slippy underpaw.”
The two friends stood on the ramparts of the Abbey, facing the snow-wreathed trees of Mossflower Wood. They warmed their backs on the fire and took breakfast together, watching the rising sun make scarlet flame patterns through the leafless branches.
Skipper spooned oatmeal down at an alarming rate, nodding toward the rising light. “Here comes the good ole sun, what’d we do without it! Hmm, somethin’ in this oatmeal, aside from ’otroot. An odd taste, wonder wot it is?”
The Abbot could not resist telling him. “Friar Glisum said you wouldn’t guess. Actually, it’s nutmeg.”
Skipper wolfed it energetically. “Very nice, I like it!”
The rising sun came up swiftly, bearded in a pinky fawn cloud. It shone like a ruby dipped in molten gold.
Skipper paused. “Mother Nature’s miracle. Ain’t it a pretty sight?”
Shielding his bowl from the whirling snowflakes, the Abbot turned his gaze upon the beautiful Abbey. He shook his head in wonder. “Redwall takes on a different face with each season, my friend. See how the light catches the stones?”
They both stood silent, viewing the ancient building through the falling snow. In the newborn day, its normally dusty red sandstone was turned to a pale roseate hue, reflecting sunlight from the belltower to the weathervane. Buttresses and arches stood out in deeper-shaded relief. Rear dormitory and hall windows blazed light from the risen orb of the sun, causing snowladen windowsills to twinkle like powdered silver. Beyond the south lawns and the orchard, Redwall Abbey’s pond was smooth under a thick sheet of ice. The entire scene was bordered by the walkways and battlements of the Abbey’s broad outer walls.
Skipper placed a paw on his friend’s shoulder, smiling. “Aye, mate, ’tis a wonder to behold! An’ to think that yore the great Father Abbot over it all!”
Humble blinked and put aside his bowl. Then he and Skipper began taking a leisurely stroll around to the west wall and the main gate. “I was quite happy as a Cellarhog, you know.”
Chuckling, the burly otter replied, “An’ so ye still are. But you were the best beast for the job, an’ you deserve it!”
When they reached the southwest walkway, a cry rang out from the path beyond the outer wall. “Any brekkist to be had fer two pore beasts a-wanderin’ pawloose in the freezin’ winter?”
Abbot Humble beamed from ear to spiketip. “Cousin Jem, I’d know that voice anywhere!”
Sheltering their eyes, they peered down to the path. Two aged creatures, towing a small cart, were trudging up from the south, the tracks behind them being obliterated by the downfall of white. One was a hedgehog, the other a mole, both cloaked and hooded.
Tipping his snout politely, the mole grinned up at them. He roared up in a deep bass voice, speaking in the quaint mole accent, “Oi beg ee pardon, zurrs, but bee’s you’m goin’ to leave us’ns owt yurr ’til we’m both a-turned into snowbeasts?”
Skipper leaned out over the battlements. “Well, scuttle me rudder, ’tis Hitheryon Jem an’ Wanderin’ Walt. Where’ve you two ole relics been for the last eight seasons? We’d give up ’ope of seein’ ye again!”
Hitheryon Jem, the hedgehog, waved a mittened paw. “Good wintertide to ye, Cousin Humble, an’ to you, Skipper. We ain’t sayin’ another word ’til we’re through yore gates an’ eatin’ good vittles in front of a blazin’ fire. So look lively an’ let us in, ye ole streamwhomper!”
Skipper led Humble along the west rampart and down the wallstairs. They both banged on the gatehouse door.
Still clad in nightshirt and bedcap, Brother Gordale, the mouse Gatekeeper, shuffled out, yawning and scratching. “Brrr, snow. What’s all the kerfuffle about? ’Tis scarcely daybreak, can’t ye sleep?”
Skipper began unbarring the main gates. “Visitors, matey. Lend a paw ’ere, we’ve got guests!”
Snow was drifting against the bottom of the heavy oaken gates, making a crunching sound as the Redwallers tugged them open. The two visitors trundled their cart inside, then helped to close the gates and bar them.
Simultaneously, the main door of the Abbey building burst open. A horde of cheering, squealing Dibbuns stampeded out, roaring with delight at the sight of snow, a first experience for some of them. Within moments the Abbey grounds were a scene of chaos.
Abbot Humble raised his eyes resignedly to the sky. “Oh, dearie me, let’s get indoors quickly!”
Ducking snowballs, and avoiding sliding little ones, they made their way through the melee. Older Redwallers stood in the doorway, holding mufflers, mittens, scarves and hoods. Their entreaties were lost on the wild herd of Dibbuns.
“Come back here and get dressed properly!”
“You’ll be snufflin’ with cold if you don’t put decent winter clothes on!”
“You’m cumm back yurr, this vurry h’instint, rarscals!”
“Put those snowballs down, please . . . Don’t you dare!”
Volleys of snowballs were hurled by the rebellious pack of Abbeybabes. Trying to get inside the building, the Abbot and his friends were caught on the front steps with the Dibbun minders. Everybeast came in for a good pelting.
Humble faced the little ones, paws open wide. “Now stop this, please! I command you to st . . . Ooooff!”
A well-aimed snowball caught him on the snout. More snowballs spattered across Skipper’s back as he rescued the Abbot and pushed him inside. Still throwing, the Dibbuns retreated in the direction of the pond, intent on trying out the ice.
Skipper called to one of his ottercrew, “Follow those villains, mate. Make sure none of ’em goes through the ice!”
Gordale slammed the Abbey door shut as a barrage of snowballs burst against it. He brushed snow from his nightshirt indignantly. “Hooligans, rogues! The manners of young ’uns these days, really!”
Shaking snow from his habit sleeves, Humble chuckled at the old Abbey Gatekeeper. “Forgotten your Dibbun seasons, Brother?”
Jem pulled snow from his headspikes. “Aye, let the babes have their fun. Right, lead me to those kitchens. As the Abbot’s cousin, I demand it!”
Walt was fully in agreement. “Burr aye, let oi toast moi paws boi ee stove an’ git summ brekkist in ee ole stummick!”
Friar Glisum put aside his ladle and shook the travellers’ paws cordially. “Enter, weary travellers. Come in and let me feed your bodies and warm your hearts. My kitchens are at your disposal!”
Walt winked at Jem. “Boi ’okey, thurr bee’s a creetur oi cudd dearly h’admire!”
Glisum seated them on a heap of dry sacks. They gasped with pleasure as the Friar opened his big oven, gesturing with a long paddle. “Mushroom pasties with hot gravy, leek and carrot bake topped with yellow cheese, or maybe some fresh-baked crusty wheatbread? Murly, heat up some of that harvest vegetable soup we had for supper last night. There’s a good little maid!”
A tubby little molemaid, in frilly apron and mob cap, curtsied. “Zoop bee’s cummen roight h’away, zurrs!”
Skipper gaped in awe as the guests shed their travelling gear and fell upon the food hungrily. “Great seasons, ’tis a good job there’s only two of ye, mates! ’Ow many famines ’ave ye lived through?”
Jem looked up from his second pastie. “Too many, mate. We done nought but dream o’ Redwall grub for eight seasons!”
Walt grabbed a crusty loaf. After tearing it apart, he began dunking it in the savoury onion gravy. “Ho gurt h’Abbey vikkles!”
Virtually no conversation ensued as Hitheryon Jem and Wandering Walt applied themselves wholeheartedly to the good fare provided by Friar Glisum and his kitchen staff. Abbot Humble and the others knew they would have to wait for news of the comings and goings in other places until both guests had taken their fill. It had been a long time since the travellers’ last visit, and the Abbey creatures were anxious to hear the news from places far beyond Redwall. As the kitchens would be busy with mealtimes, Humble ordered the fire to be banked up in Cavern Hole and two comfortable armchairs moved close to the hearth. His guests could rest there and talk in relative comfort and peace.
Much later in the morning, Jem and Walt vacated the kitchens. As they made their way across Great Hall, the main door opened. The Dibbuns finally had been rounded up and were being marched in for a very late breakfast. Sister Armel, the pretty young squirrel who was Infirmary Keeper, led the way. She was accompanied by her two helpers—Foremole Bruffy and Sister Screeve, the stout, cheery mouse who was Abbey Recorder. All three were trying to gain some semblance of order amid the excited little ones.
“Wipe those paws thoroughly on the mat, please! Stand in line.”
Sister Armel eyed a tubby mousebabe sternly. “Mimsie, please take that snowball outside and throw it away.”
Mimsie waved cheerily to Humble. “Goo’ mornin’, h’Abbit. I jus’ gonna frow dis snowball ’way.”
Abbot Humble nodded understandingly. “There’s a good little maid, it’s not nice to take snowballs in to breakfast.”
Mudge the molebabe called out helpfully, “Hurr, ’cos snowyballs can’t eat breffist. Can they’m, zurr?”
A hedgehog Dibbun named Perkle piped up. “An’ hysiggles can’t not eat breffist, neither, can they?”
Mudge shook his head solemnly. “No, they’m carn’t, you’m gurt pudden-’eaded choild!”
Sister Screeve retrieved a long, pointed icicle from Perkle. “Give me that icicle before you put somebeast’s eye out with it.”
Skipper laughed at the antics of the Dibbuns, who, now that they remembered they were hungry, were anxious to be fed. They squeaked and bounced up and down as the helpers tried to keep them in line. They splashed about in puddles of melted snow which dripped from them.
The otter chieftain called to the helpers, “Sister Armel, when you get that lot brekkisted, may’aps you’n Foremole an’ Screeve might like to drop by Cavern ’ole to ’ear the latest news from Jem’n’Walt.”
Sister Screeve chivvied three latecomers into line. “Thank you, I’ll bring quill and parchment to record any important events. We’ll see you down there shortly.”
An hour later, all Redwallers interested in hearing the news were gathered in Cavern Hole. They waited respectfully until Hitheryon Jem had sipped at a tankard of mulled October Ale. He smacked his lips appreciatively, glanced at the eager faces of his audience and then commenced.
“Well now, my good friends, those last two winters were so deep an’ hard that me’n ole Walt here couldn’t make it up to yore Abbey, but here we are now. Other seasons were fine—springtimes fresh, summers warm an’ autumns agreeable. There weren’t much to report on until this late autumn. Then we came across a mighty strange thing, didn’t we, Walt?”
Putting aside his tankard, the mole blinked dozily in the warm firelight glow. “Burr aye, et wurr strange an’ h’odd, vurry h’odd!”
Sister Screeve dipped her quill into some ink swiftly. “Strange and odd—in what way, pray tell?”
Jem gazed into the fire, as if reliving the incident. “It were a sunny morn, but misty. We was rovin’ along the tideline, southwest, a couple o’ leagues from the mountain strong’old of Salamandastron. There on the shore we espied a small vessel, wrecked it were, an’ washed up on the rocks. So, me’n Walt, we went to see wot we could do. Right, Walt?”
But the old mole had slipped off into a slumber, wooed by the fire and the comfortable armchair. Jem smiled, then continued with his narrative.
“Looks like I’m bound to tell this tale alone. Aye, ’twere a small craft, with a simple square-rigged sail, smashed to bits an’ stoved in by the rocks. All that was in it was a few empty food sacks, a broken water cask an’ some fish bones. But there were tracks aplenty, runnin’ up the beach an’ headed nor’east. We took a good look at them marks, made by a single beast they were. I tell ye, it made pawprints like we’d never seen, great wide blurry ones with deep curvin’ clawmarks—bigger’n those of a badger. The claws were broader, more pointed, not blunt like a badger’s but very sharp an’ long. By the blurrin’ o’ the tracks, I figgered this must be a beast with long hair comin’ from its paws. By the length o’ the pawmarks, an’ their depth, Walt reckoned that the thing’d be about the same size as a big male badger. Anyhow, we was thinkin’ of makin’ our way over to visit ye at Redwall afore winter set in. So seein’ as the tracks went in the same direction, we decided to follow ’em, just to get a look o’ this oddbeast.”
Jem paused to refill his tankard, giving the Abbot the chance to enquire, “Did you not visit the mountain of Salamandastron at all?”
The wanderer nodded. “Aye, we stopped there at the end o’ spring season—that ole mountain fortress ain’t changed a whit. Lady Melesme is still the Badger Ruler o’ the western shores, she an’ those hares send ye all their fond best wishes. Oh, I forgot to mention, Melesme’s sendin’ ye a gift.”
Brother Gordale leaned forward. “A gift, for us?”
Jem took a draught of his ale. “Do ye remember about four summers back, when she visited here with that troop of Long Patrol hares? Both yore bells were down for cleanin’ whilst ye repaired the bellropes. D’ye recall that?”
Foremole Bruffy wrinkled his velvety brow. “Ho aye, oi amembers et. Ee gurt badger lady sayed she’m missed ee sounds uv our bells. Hurr, she’m wurr gurtly fond of ee bellnoises.”
Skipper nodded. “That’s right, so she was. Lady Melesme said to me that if’n our bells were down, we should ’ave somethin’ to mark the times o’ day an’ night.”
Jem winked at the otter. “Well, she’s sendin’ ye a drum.”
Sister Screeve paused from her recording. “A drum?”
The traveller explained. “Hoho, but what a drum, marm! When I saw it, ’twas only half made. The drumskin was taken from a big dead shark. The hares found it washed up on the beach one mornin’. Melesme an’ the hares were makin’ the casin’ from two great circles of elmwood, an’ the ribbin’ from sharkbone. I saw the hares at the forge, beatin’ out gold an’ silver to decorate the rim an’ edges o’ the drum. ’Tis goin’ to be a drum the like o’ which ye’ve never seen!”
Abbot Humble folded both paws into his wide sleeves. “How kind and thoughtful of our friend Melesme. We must think of something to send her in return—perhaps a beautifully woven robe and a keg of sweet damson and elderberry wine. She was very fond of my wine when she visited us.”
Sister Screeve turned to Jem impatiently. “Yes, yes, but on with the tale, my friend. Did you and Walt follow the tracks which ran up the shore?”
Jem took up the threads of his tale again. “Oh aye, marm. We followed right enough. It looked like the beast were travellin’ fast, though, as if ’twere in haste to get clear o’ the coast. Walt’n me thought mayhaps the creature was bein’ pursued, but we weren’t in no rush, just followed at our own pace, slow’n’steady. Ole Walt an’ meself, we’ve never hurried for nobeast. Those tracks was as clear as the snout on yore face, so we plodded on after ’em. The trail took us off’n the shore, up into the hills, o’er the clifftops. From there it were all trekkin’ across heaths an’ moorlands, fordin’ rivers an’ brooks’n’streams. It took quite a few days, I can tell ye. We made it into the southwest marches o’ Mossflower Woodlands.”
Jem savoured the taste of his October Ale. “Aye, ’twas of a nightfall when we reached the trees. Lucky we did, marm, ’cos it came on to storm somethin’ fearful. So me’n ole Walt dug in under a rocky ledge for shelter. Huh, I wouldn’t be out in a storm like that’n for anythin’!”
Sister Armel interrupted Jem. “That big thunderstorm . . . but that was only five nights ago?”
The hedgehog nodded, holding out his tankard for a refill. “Right ye are, pretty miss. Otherwise we’d have arrived at yore Abbey two days afore the snow. Findin’ that beast cost us time.”
“So you did find the creature?” Abbot Humble enquired.
The traveller held his footpaws up to the fireglow. “That we did, cousin. ’Twas the followin’ morn when it ’appened. Neither of us was sure o’ the trail, y’see—that storm’d washed out the tracks. Well, we was wanderin’ along as best as we could, when ole Walt ’ears noises. A sort of gruntin’ an’ groanin’ an’ yowlin’, like as if somebeast was in pain. So we goes toward the din, an’ there ’twas, trapped under a big ole rotted sycamore that the storm musta blowed down. Got it right across its back, snapped the thing’s spine, I reckon. ’Twas clear the beast was dyin’. It was built like a big male badger, though its limbs was thicker an’ shorter. Strange-lookin’ thing—pointed, weaselly snout, with a thick, bushy-furred body, blackish brown, with lighter stripes runnin’ down both sides to a tail thicker’n a squirrel’s. But you should’ve seen its claws an’ teeth! I never seen such dangerous claws, or so many sharp fangs in one mouth. Made yore blood run cold t’see that animal, snarlin’, growlin’, screechin’, an’ tryin’ to bite its way through a tree trunk ten times its size!”
Foremole Bruffy twitched his snout curiously. “Boi ’okey! Wot did ee do, zurr?”
Hitheryon Jem shrugged. “Wasn’t alot we could do, really. As soon as it saw us, the beast roared an’ yowled even louder. That fallen sycamore was a great ole woodland giant of a thing—a score o’ creatures couldn’t ’ave budged it. So me’n Walt tried talkin’ to the beast. We told it we was friends an’ didn’t mean it no harm. Hah, it just bared its fangs at us an’ said, ‘Nobeast is friend of Askor. Ye come near, I tear ye to pieces. Askor slays all enemy, everybeast is enemy!’ ”
Jem paused and looked around at his audience. “Well, friends, I ask ye, wot were we t’do? Ole Walt threw Askor his canteen in case he was thirsty, but he flung it back at us. When I tossed him some food, he did the same thing. Can ye imagine it? Layin’ there under a big fallen tree, dyin’ of a broken back an’ refusin’ food, drink an’ friendship. I lost patience with Askor an’ told him he was a thick’eaded fool. He just gave a nasty laugh an’ said, ‘Gulo will come. Tell him I say he will never find Walking Stone. Askor soon will die, then you can eat me’!”
A horrified gasp came from Sister Armel. “Eat him?”
Jem clenched his jaw grimly. “Aye, those were his very words, miss. Huh, I told him we ’ad no intention of eatin’ him. Then he laughed, showed us those fangs of his an’ said, ‘You are fool, not eat Askor? Weak fool. I am wolverine, all beasts are my enemy. Wolverine eat enemy, grow strong on their blood! When Gulo find me, I will be long dead, not good to eat. You tell him, Askor wins, Walking Stone is mine forever. Gulo will never find Walking Stone.’ ”
Abbot Humble was keen to hear more. “What did you do then?”
Jem sat back. “Nothin’, we did nothin’. We knew his name was Askor an’ that he was a wolverine, though we’d never heard o’ such a creature. That beast must’ve been mad with the pain his broken back was causin’ him, but it were more’n that. Askor wouldn’t talk to us anymore. He just lay there waitin’ for death to take him. Mutterin’ on about the one called Gulo an’ sayin’ how he’d never get his paws on the thing called Walkin’ Stone. So I asked him to tell me more about Gulo an’ the Walkin’ Stone. Askor went quiet for a bit, then he spoke.”
Sister Screeve dipped her quill pen into the ink. “Can you recall the wolverine’s words?”
Jem continued. “He said, ‘Gulo the Savage is my brother. Nobeast is more bloodthirsty and fierce than Gulo. We live in the lands of ice, beyond the great sea. Dramz, our father, ruled over all, even though he was growing sick and old. He was obeyed, as long as he owned the Walking Stone. It was his wish that, after his death, we would share the Walking Stone and rule together, but Gulo did not want this. He murdered our father and took the Walking Stone. It was I, Askor, who stole it from Gulo. The moment I did this, my life was in danger. Gulo had the white foxes and ermine on his side. I would be a deadbeast if I stayed in the lands of ice. But the Walking Stone was as much mine as his, so I stole a boat and sailed away. Gulo will come after me, as sure as night follows day. He would find where the Walking Stone is, then kill me and eat me. Not now, though—I will already be dead. Gulo the Savage will not find where I have hidden the Walking Stone. He cannot be ruler without it. Askor has won!’ ”
Jem paused. “So I asked him where he had hidden the Walking Stone. I never expected Askor t’tell me, an’ I’m not sure he did, but these were his exact words. Sister, ye’d best write this down while I can still remember.
“Where the sun falls from the sky,
and dances at a pebble’s drop,
where little leaves slay big leaves,
where wood meets earth I stop.
Safe from the savage son of Dramz,
here the secret lies alone,
the symbol of all power, the mighty Walking Stone.”
Jem glanced at the Abbot. “A riddle if ever I heard one—eh, cousin?”
Humble nodded slowly. “Aye, a very puzzling rhyme, Jem. Tell me, what happened then?”
Twirling dregs in his tanker, the old hedgehog quaffed the last of his ale. “ ’Twas a terrible thing to see. Askor reared up and shouted, ‘I defeated thee, Gulo. Me, Askor, I won! When next I see your face, I will laugh at you in the light of the fires at Hellgates.’ Then he gave a mighty roar and gripped the fallen trunk with all four paws. You should’ve seen the size o’ that log, but I swear he actually lifted it a fraction! Then he slumped back an’ fell dead, probably from the exertion an’ the strain o’ his broken back. We couldn’t get him out for buryin’, so me an’ Walt covered his body over with loam an’ dead leaves, leavin’ Askor where he lay. Then we set out for Redwall Abbey. Ole Walt, bein’ a rock o’ good sense, made sure we covered our tracks well. Nobeast could have followed us, ’cos Walt’s an expert at wipin’ out a trail.”
Sister Screeve, looking alarmed, put down her quill. “Do you think that the evil brother, this Gulo the Savage, will come here? Mayhaps he’ll think that you and Walt found the Walking Stone and have taken it with you.”
Skipper patted her back reassuringly. “Don’t fret, marm. Jem’n’Walt knows all the skills o’ woodcraft. I wager not even a hungry serpent could’ve followed ’em here. Ain’t that right, Father?”
Humble trusted the otter chieftain’s judgement. “Skipper’s right, Sister Screeve. No need for you or any other Redwaller to worry over such things. However, I’d be obliged if you didn’t go speaking of the incident to others. No need to concern them unduly.”
Foremole Bruffy held a big blunt digging claw to his mouth. “Hushee naow, zurrs’n’marms. Ole Jem bee’s falled to sleepin’.”
Jem’s head had dropped back upon the cushions. A combination of food, ale and warmth had lulled him into a peaceful slumber. Removing the empty tankard from Jem’s grasp, the Abbot lowered his voice. “Poor weary travellers, they both look worn out. Leave them to their rest, friends. Let’s go and see what mischief those Dibbuns are up to.”
Silently, the Redwallers tippawed from Cavern Hole. Skipper and Abbot Humble were last to leave. The otter chieftain latched the door gently, murmuring to Humble, “No more fires on the walltops for a while, Father. I’ll tell the wallguards to stay alert during the night, an’ keep a weather eye peeled for anythin’ unusual. No sense invitin’ trouble by bein’ unprepared.”
The Abbot patted Skipper’s brawny paw. “A good idea, my friend. I’ll leave the arrangements to you.”
After breakfasting late, the Dibbuns had stampeded out into the snow again. Inside, the Abbey was relatively quiet. The dishes had been cleared away from Great Hall tables, and most of the elders had gone outdoors. Humble knew that they went on the pretext of watching the Abbeybabes, though mainly they wanted to join in the fun.
Humble wandered over the worn floorstones, stopping at the tapestry of Martin the Warrior. He it was who had fought to free Mossflower Country, and helped to build the Abbey, in the dim, countless seasons of long ago. Martin was the very essence and spirit of Redwall. Now his marvellous sword was displayed between two brackets over the tapestry. Humble gazed up at the figure of the heroic mouse whose likeness was woven lovingly into the huge ancient tapestry. His features were strong and resolute; his eyes—friendly, gallant and caring—seemed to follow wherever one went.
From outside, the Abbot could hear the distant merriment where everybeast was playing on the Abbey pond. It was a sound very dear to the old Cellarhog who had risen to be Father Abbot of Redwall. He whispered to Martin, “Don’t let any ill fortune disturb the peace and happiness of our home—I beg you, Martin.”
Lanterns flickered on each side of the tapestry, which rippled slightly in an errant breeze from the open door. But the figure of Martin the Warrior did not stir. He stood steadfastly, guarding his beloved Abbey throughout the winter, as he had through time immemorial.
The territory of Squirrelking Araltum and Idga Drayqueen consisted of a sizeable grove of beech, hazelnut and various conifers that grew near the clifftops and shoreline, some two leagues south of Salamandastron. It was not far from where Walt and Jem had found Askor’s wrecked boat.
Araltum was a fat, pompous and vain creature whose title, “King,” was one of his own making. He had also conferred the name “Drayqueen” on his haughty and ill-mannered wife, Idga. They were, indeed, a well-matched pair. It was some twelve seasons since they had arrived and had enforced their authority over the tree groves. Araltum did this by hiring mercenary squirrel warriors, travelling pawloose fighters who pledged their swords in exchange for position and the benefits of life amid the fertile groves of fruit and nut trees which abounded in the Squirrelking’s domain. It was no mean achievement for the royal couple to have established their rule. Their home and court was in the terraces at the centre of the groves. Araltum and Idga revelled in the setting of petty ceremonies, laws, acts and penalties, which were rigidly enforced by their officers.
One morning Idga Drayqueen awoke to witness the arrival of spring, a welcome event after the harsh, dark days of winter. The last snows melted and slid from bended boughs under a warm, beaming sun. Birdsong echoed through the trees, backed by the rippling music of streams freed from their icy covers. The earth was renewing itself once more. With the new season came the initiation of a new ceremony, the Marking of the Marches! This was something which Araltum and Idga had planned throughout the tedious days and evenings of wintertide. It was to be a grand parade of the royal couple’s boundaries, starting at the court, then spreading forth to circle the groves which marked their lands, and culminating back at the court with a grand feast. The entire affair would be punctuated with music, song and many high-flown speeches which the Squirrelking and his Drayqueen had written for themselves. This was designed to impress upon their subjects the power and magnificence of the royal pair. Idga and her servants had spent long winter nights making a banner, a large, florid thing. Truly a triumphal set piece, it was yellow, with blue chevrons on one side to denote the sea. Six green trees represented the land at the other side. Its centre was dominated by two huge, bushy tails, the symbols of king and queen.
At the opening of the new ceremony, the royal banner, which was now fixed to a long flagstaff made from yew wood, was presented to Araltum by Idga. Amid cheers and jubilant chants from the rank-and-file squirrels, Idga performed an elaborate curtsy and fell flat on her considerable rear end. A playful gust of wind caught the banner, causing Araltum to stagger about and to nearly be swept off his paws. Driltig and Chamog, two of his captains, saved the king from injury by taking charge of the billowing flag. As Idga was helped up by her servants, Araltum launched squeakily into his speech.
“Ahem! Er, let all who see this, our Royal Standard, bow their heads and wave their tails in respect. Yes, wherever our banner flies, it will inspire joy in the hearts of all. . . .”
Dutiful cheers echoed forth from the onlookers as the king continued. “And strike terror into the hearts of foebeasts, who are, er, rash enough to trespass upon these, my territories!”
More orchestrated calls of approval rang out among the crowd before Araltum concluded his speech. “This flag shall fly a hundred, nay, a thousand seasons, as a symbol of my power! Let allbeasts know of the beauty and wisdom of Idga Drayqueen and her King, the fearless, the mighty, the magnificent. . . .”
Here he raised his paws as his subjects shouted en masse, “Long live Idga Drayqueen and Squirrelking Araltum!”
The procession wound off through the trees—Araltum swaggering in the lead, Chamog and Driltig slightly behind, bearing the new royal standard, and six other various captains and officials following. In their wake marched a score of singers and musicians, trilling the praises of their rulers in a song jointly composed by the royal couple.
“O mighty and magnificent,
upholders of our laws.
Thy loyal subjects call to thee,
protect us with thy paws.
O Araltum and thy Drayqueen,
so fair of fur and tail,
we bow to thee in honour,
and joyfully cry Hail!”
A huge, ancient chestnut tree, which held the court within its spreading limbs, had a small barred door set in the base of its trunk. This was the cell which held dissidents and malefactors.
Doogy Plumm peered through the tiny barred aperture and laughed. Then, in his strong Northern Highland accent, he shouted out, “Ho ho ho! Will ye listen tae the dunderheads, all chantin’ an’ singin’ tae that wee lard barrel!”
Doogy, a short, thick-bodied squirrel, was no lightweight himself. He turned to his fellow prisoner—a tall, powerful, sinewy-built beast. “Och, Tam, mah beauty, don’t ye wish we were oot there, havin’ sich a braw time, caterwaulin’ the auld eejits’ praises? Will ye be grieved tae miss the braw feast for their majesties?”
Rakkety Tam MacBurl unfolded himself from a small bunk and stretched lazily. “Nay, Doogy, I’d sooner miss a dozen feasts than have to bow’n’scrape around that little toad, singin’ foolish ditties that him an’ Idga penned between them!”
Tam’s accent was not as broad as Doogy’s; he was a Borderer and not from the Highlands. Doogy scrambled down from the stool he had been perched on and threw himself on the bunk. “Ah Tam, Tam. Why did we ever roam south tae pledge our blades tae sich a pair o’ fools?”
Tam laughed drily. “Because it seemed a good idea at the time, wee Doogy Plumm. Ye have to take the bad with the good.”
Doogy scratched his tail. “Aye, an’ there hasnae been much o’ the good lately.”
Tam rattled the cell door to attract the attention of the guard who was posted outside. “Hi, Hinjo! When are they goin’ to let us out o’ here? We’re famished for the want of food!”
Hinjo had served with both Tam and Doogy and was friendly toward them. He shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, Tam, I’ve got my orders. Both of ye have got to stay there until the ceremony and the feast are finished. Then I’m to march ye up to the court, where the royal pair will decide what punishment fits yore crimes, mate.”
Rakkety Tam’s face was the picture of roguish innocence. “Who, me? What crime am I supposed to have committed?”
The guard shook his head, chuckling. “Yore an insubordinate rascal, Cap’n MacBurl. What did ye think Araltum was goin’ t’do after ye called him a waddlin’ ole windbag an’ refused to carry the royal flag in his new ceremony? Tam, yore the best warrior the King’s ever had, but ye can’t insult him like that an’ get off free.”
Doogy scrambled back up onto the stool, next to Tam. “Ah never said ought aboot the blitherin’ oaf!”
Hinjo guffawed loudly. “Of course ye didn’t, Doogy, but ye did call Idga Drayqueen a fussy-bustled ole branch-burster! I think that might’ve had somethin’ to do with ye bein’ in there, eh?”
Doogy Plumm wrinkled his nose. “Ach, but we was only sayin’ what everybeast was thinkin’.”
Hinjo leaned on his spear as he explained to Doogy, “Aye, but no matter what everybeast is thinkin’, they keep it to theirselves. You two are the first to say it out loud. Why don’t ye go an’ take another nap? When all the celebrations are done with, you’ll be sent for. Take my word for it, mates, I’ve got my orders.”
Further argument was useless. Tam and Doogy lay heads to paws on the little bunk and tried to slumber, each with his own thoughts. Both beasts had left the Northlands to come south in the winter of the famine. Starvation, or death by bands of predatory vermin, killed off many squirrels that winter. Neither Tam nor Doogy had any close family, but both were young warriors with a sense of adventure. They had met up on the road whilst trekking south to the warmer climes. Straightaway they had taken to each other and had become the closest of comrades. Together the two squirrels had lived through a series of perils and scrapes but had come through it all, still side by side.
Tam and Doogy had been spotted by Araltum’s scouts as soon as they had walked into his territory. The Squirrelking immediately knew that these two young warriors were the best he had ever seen. Initially, Tam and Doogy had been flattered by the cordial welcome and the attention lavished upon them by the royal couple. In Araltum’s kingdom were rich and fertile copses and glades, food grown in abundance everywhere and balmy coastline climate for most seasons—a whole different world compared to the hard life of the Northlands from whence Tam and Doogy had come. Soon the two companions had pledged their word and swords in the Squirrelking’s service. Both had risen swiftly in the ranks—Tam being made Royal Champion, with the faithful Doogy always at his friend’s side. Having fiercely repulsed any foebeasts who attacked, soon there were few large vermin raids of any kind. After a while, the names Rakkety Tam MacBurl and Wild Doogy Plumm had become bywords for courage and fearlessness.
With the passing of seasons, Araltum’s land became safe and secure, no longer a satisfying place for active warriors. Tam and Doogy, still young and wild, became disenchanted with having to enforce the trivial, and oft times piffling, petty regulations made by Araltum and Idga. The day before the new ceremony brought things to a head. Now they were imprisoned by the same laws that they had upheld. Things would never again be the same between Tam, Doogy and the royal squirrel rulers.
Tam and Doogy whiled away the hours, dozing fitfully. At midnoon Hinjo tapped on the door. Doogy sat up, rubbing both eyes with his tailbrush. “What’s goin’ on oot there? Can ye no’ let a body take a wee rest—away wi’ ye!”
This time the spearbutt rapped the door sharply. Hinjo’s voice was loud and urgent. “Come quick! Idga Drayqueen wants to see ye both. Somethin’s gone badly wrong. I don’t know what ’tis, but yore both to follow me at the double!”
Rising unhurriedly, Tam began wrapping on his woven heather tartan of brown, green and dusty lilac—first around his waist, in a kilt, then across his chest and over one shoulder so that it draped down, cloaklike, upon his back. He winked roguishly at Doogy, who was also dressing.
“Idga wants t’see us, that’s nice. I wonder if she’s saved us some cake an’ wine. Dearie me, we can’t dash up there lookin’ like a pair o’ ragamuffins, Doogy!”
Hinjo unbolted the door and opened it hastily. “Will you two put a move on! Yore needed urgent, now!”
Doogy Plumm was setting a small eagle feather in his cap. He spat on one paw and preened his tail slowly. “Och, the poor wee Queenie, tell her we’ll drop by tae chat wi’ her as soon as we’re lookin’ braw an’ saucy.”
Hinjo pleaded. “Come on, mates, please, or she’ll have my hide. Tam, will ye move yoreself?”
Tam cinched his broad belt tight and set his cap at a jaunty angle. “So then, Doogy my friend, d’ye think we look fit enough to be presented to Her Majesty?”
His companion threw up a smart tail salute. “Aye, like a pair o’ lassies ready tae dance a reel, sir!”
Rakkety Tam bowed gallantly to Doogy. “After you, sir. Quick march, left right, left right, tails up, shoulders back, eyes front!”
They marched out in perfect step, leaping together up into the big old chestnut trunk.
A wide platform of limbs and boughs connected the chestnut with several large trees nearby. This formed the royal court, which at that moment was in a state of chaos. King Araltum was wrapped in a blanket, dishevelled, shivering and wailing. Idga Drayqueen had gone into a swoon, lying flat on her back and gasping for breath. Several of her servants were fanning her with ferns and dabbing her paws with rose water. Squirrels were running hither and thither—some hiding, others gathering up their belongings.
Tam marched straight up to Araltum, questioning him sharply, “What in the name o’ seasons has been goin’ on here?”
Regardless of not being addressed by his title, the king sobbed, “I was attacked, invaded, assaulted! Barbarians, hooligans, monsters! They’ve stolen our Royal Banner!”
The courtiers and servants set up a concerted moan. Doogy roared at them, “Will ye shut that wailin’ up!”
Idga Drayqueen raised a tearstained face, blubbering, “Oh oh, my poor love! What have those murderers done to you? We’ll all be slain in our beds. Wahaaaaah!”
Tam turned on her contemptuously. “Silence, marm, an’ try to behave like a queen. Your husband’s alive an’ well. Where did all this happen, Driltig?”
Nursing a bruised paw, Captain Driltig muttered brokenly, “Down at the west fringe, near the clifftops.”
Tam nodded to Doogy. “Get down there fast, mate. See what’s gone on, then report back t’me!”
Doogy took off like an arrow, zinging through the foliage. Turning his attention to the trembling king, Tam tried to make sense of all that was going on. “Tell me what you can. What did you see?”
Araltum blurted out squeakily, “There were hundreds of them . . . white vermin. They surrounded us. Then that thing, that Gulo, attacked without warning. I was almost killed! D’you hear me, almost killed!”
Araltum collapsed, weeping hysterically. Tam gave an irate snort. Grabbing hold of Driltig, he hauled him upright. “Make your report, Captain. Come on, smarten up!”
Driltig could not meet his interrogator’s gaze. He rubbed his bruised paw, babbling like a beast in a trance. “It was a nightmare! One moment we were marching out of the trees and onto the western fringe. Me an’ Chamog were carryin’ the flag, the others were singin’ an’ playin’ flutes. . . . Suddenly they ambushed us, out of nowhere—a great mob of wild vermin, white foxes an’ ermine stoats. The leader was called Gulo, they were yelling his name. ‘Gulo! Gulo!’ They hit us like lightnin’—rippin’, slayin’ an’ slashin’. We never stood a chance. I dropped the flag. Then me an’ Pinetooth over there, we seized the King an’ rushed him up into the trees. That’s when I hurt my paw. We went like the wind, our creatures screamin’ an’ dyin’ back there. We could hear those vermin roarin’ an’ laughin’ like madbeasts. I’ll never forget it as long as I live, never!”
Driltig slumped down, weeping. The older squirrel, Pinetooth, was an experienced campaigner. He sat silent, ignoring a bleeding wound to his shoulder. Tam looked to him.
Pinetooth shook his head. “I can’t tell ye anymore’n he did, Tam. It all happened too fast!”
Tam nodded. “Ye’d best get that wound seen to, mate.”
Pinetooth glanced at his injury as if just noticing it. “One of the vermin slashed at me with a blade shaped like a sickle. I was lucky, though, I escaped. That Gulo beast got Cap’n Chamog first. Pore beast, he screamed like a babe!”
Idga Drayqueen had sufficiently recovered to complain at Tam. “My poor Araltum, almost killed! And where were you while all this murder was taking place, eh?”
Rakkety Tam lost his temper and bellowed at her, “Locked in the guardhouse because I wouldn’t play your stupid little games, marm. Don’t ye remember? Where’s me’n Doogy’s weapons o’ war—you had them confiscated.”
Pinetooth went to a concealed place amid the branches. He dragged forth a big sack with its neck tied shut. Tearing it open with his teeth, he upended it. Tam grabbed the belongings that had been taken from him—his trusty weapon, a claymore, with a hefty double-edged blade and a basket hilt; his dirk, the long dagger used by Northerners for close fighting; and his Sgian Dhu, a small, keen skinning knife with a black handle and an amber cairnstone set on top. Tam thrust the claymore into the side of his belt, the dirk at the back, beneath his cloak, and the Sgian Dhu behind a hackle of feathers set into his cap. Last, he picked up his buckler, a small, round fighting shield, slinging it behind his left shoulder.
“Now I feel properly dressed. I’ll hold Doogy’s gear here until he gets back.”
It was some time before Tam’s partner returned. Buckling on his three blades and picking up his shield, Doogy spoke quietly to Tam. “Ah tell ye, mate, it was a massacre!”
Tam showed no emotion. “Were there no wounded on either side? Did ye not catch sight o’ the vermin?”
Doogy shook his head. “Nary a sign of ’em, but they left tracks aplenty. There was no’ one of our fighters alive.”
Tam pointed at Idga and Araltum. “Doogy, you an’ the rest bring these two along. ’Twill do them good to see the results of their playactin’. ’Tis safe enough to return there now. I’ll go ahead an’ look at the vermin tracks whilst they’re still fresh.”
As Tam swung off through the trees, Araltum protested, “He can’t talk to me like that, I’m a king!”
Doogy dragged Araltum up, whipping the blanket off him. “Yore nought but a blitherin’ auld bloater. Get movin’!”
Idga Drayqueen called out indignantly, “You common little beast! I’ll have you thrown back in the guardhouse for your impudence. Guards, seize him!”
As nobeast moved to hinder him, Doogy scowled fiercely at Idga. “Ah don’t want tae hear anither word out o’ ye. Now move that fat tail, ye wee biddy, or ah’ll move it for ye!”
Rakkety Tam was casting about the area where the attack had taken place. He peered over the cliffs down to the far shoreline. Two boats lay wrecked on the rocks—a small craft, which the pounding waves had reduced to splinters, and a big, four-masted vessel. This latter ship was holed at the bowline, close to its prow, where it had been driven headlong onto the treacherous reef.
Doogy arrived with the royal couple and the other squirrels. He indicated the big wrecked four-master. “Yon’s the ship the vermin must’ve come in, though ah’m thinkin’ ’twill be no use tae anybeast now.”
Tam’s eyes hardened. “Aye, an’ they won’t be able to repair it once we put torches to it, Doogy!”
He turned to the carnage, which Idga and Araltum were pointedly trying to ignore by gazing in another direction. “This was a massacre indeed, Doogy. By the tracks, I’d say there were about fivescore vermin who did the slaughter. Mostly foxes an’ stoats, though I see the big-pawed one, their Chieftain, leadin’ away over the clifftops.”
Doogy strained his eyes north and east. “Och, they must’ve been fair speedy villains. There’s no’ a sight of ’em anyplace!”
Tam faced Araltum. “How many were with ye at the start of yore ceremony?”
The king shrugged airily. “How should I know?”
The squirrel warrior glared at him in disgust. “Aye, an’ why should you care, now that yore skin’s saved! Pinetooth, can ye recall what the numbers were?”
The older squirrel did a quick mental estimate. “Countin’ the singers an’ musicians, I’d say about thirty.”
Idga Drayqueen snapped her bark fan shut moodily. “Really, what difference does it make? They’re all dead now!”
Tam scratched his brush as he viewed the slain squirrels. “There’s not one carcase of a foebeast among these. They’re all our creatures. Thirty, ye say, Pinetooth? Well, how d’ye account for the fact there’s only eighteen lyin’ here? Countin’ yourself an’ Driltig, that makes ten missin’.”
The old squirrel leaned on his spear. “Are ye sure, Tam, only eighteen?”
Tam gestured. “Count ’em yourself, mate. Doogy, go an’ cast an eye round the edge of the trees to the north, will ye?”
Idga Drayqueen began weeping in genuine distress. “Oh, that beautiful banner! It took me and my servants almost a full winter season to make it. Is it lost forever, my dear?”
Araltum patted her paw. “There, there, my pet, don’t you fret. Tam will get it back for us.”
Gritting his teeth, Tam managed to bite back the insulting words he was about to issue. Just then he heard Doogy hail him from afar. “Will ye come an’ take a look at this, mate?”
Striding off along the fringe, Tam came upon his companion some distance away. Doogy was swatting flies from the grisly site. Holding a paw over his mouth, he muttered, “Och, the poor beasts, ah reckon there’s little more than their heads left. ’Tis an awful thing tae see, Tam.”
His friend paced carefully about, identifying the remains. “There’s Chamog an’ Eltur, Birno an’ Rofal, this one could be Girtan. Well, that’s the other five captains. The rest look like singers an’ flute players. See these two, Doogy—they couldn’t have had more’n fourteen summers between ’em. We’re dealin’ with the lowest kind of barbarian brutes here. These squirrels have all been eaten! See, there’s bones’n’fur scattered everywhere!”
Grim-faced and shaken, the two warriors returned to the main gathering.
Araltum asked peevishly, “Did you find my Royal Standard? Was it damaged or torn? Your Drayqueen spent a lot of hard work making that bann . . .”
The king’s back slammed hard against a tree under Tam’s furious charge. Araltum’s eyes popped fearfully wide as the warrior squirrel had him by the throat, his dirk blade almost in his mouth.
Tam’s voice was ice-cold. “Ye vile little worm! A score an’ a half o’ yore creatures are lyin’ murdered, an’ all ye can do is whine about a stupid flag. I should slay ye an’ leave ye here to rot with these poor creatures!”
This statement seemed to cheer Doogy Plumm up no end. “Go to it, Tam. Carve the wee lardbucket’s head off!”
The warrior flung Araltum down on his fat tail, casting him a hate-laden glance. “I’m sore tempted, Doogy, but that’d only make us as bad as the vermin who killed our comrades. The only thing stoppin’ me is that I pledged my sword an’ my oath to Araltum, aye, an’ ate his bread in good faith!”
Massaging his throat, the king rose, sneering. “That’s right, Rakkety Tam MacBurl. I’m still your king, and you’re still bound to obey me!”
Doogy drew his claymore, grinning like a disobedient young one. “Ach, ’twas a silly thing we did, but ah’ve a mind tae alter the rules. Let me slay him for ye, Tam.”
The warrior placed his dirk across his friend’s blade. “Put up yore sword, Doogy Plumm. Without our word, we’re nothin’. Araltum, what would it take to release us from our bond to ye?”
The king smirked. “Why should I release my two best warriors? What price could you two offer? Hah, you’re nothing but a pair of raggedy-backed swordbeasts. No! You shall serve me unto death as your oath decreed.”
Idga Drayqueen interrupted, speaking imperiously. “We’ll free you if you return our Royal Standard to us!”
Araltum stamped his footpaw down hard. “Never!”
Idga turned upon her husband. “You mean you’ll let those vermin steal away our lovely banner—the one I worked my paws to the bone to make? Oh, you brute!”
Doogy shook his head sadly, sympathising with her. “Och, yer right there, mah Queen, after all the braw work ye put intae that flag. Yer hoosban’ mustn’t care a whit for ye, the heartless wee beastie!”
Araltum put a paw around Idga’s shoulders. “But I do care for you, my love. Don’t upset yourself so!”
The drayqueen shook off his paw and began weeping. “Go away, you nasty creature! I’ll never speak to you again if that’s all the thanks I get for a full winter’s stitching. You’re despicable!”
Doogy patted the queen’s paw comfortingly. “Aye, there’s nought worse tae have than a despicable king, marm. ’Tis a wonder how ye put up wi’ him.”
Araltum slumped against a tree. Knowing he was beaten, he glared sullenly at Tam and Doogy. “Alright, alright! Bring back our Royal Standard and I will release you both from your bonds. Once that banner is back here with us, you can go to the very stones of Hellgates for all I care, both of you. But not until then!”
Tam stared hard at the royal couple. “We have your word?”
They nodded, speaking together. “You have our word!”
Doogy looked north across the clifftops. “Then we’ll no’ be hangin’ aroond here tae waste time. Are ye ready, Tam?”
The warrior squirrel sheathed his dirk. “Aye, as ready as I’ll ever be. Grab some vittles, Doogy, an’ let’s away.”
Idga forced a smile at Tam. “Er, when will we expect to see you both back with our standard?”
Tam shrugged. “A season or two, who knows? If we don’t return, ye’ll know the vermin have slain an’ eaten us.”
Araltum stepped back, horrified. “Eaten you?”
Doogy winked cheerfully at him. “Aye, eaten us. Go an’ take a peek at yore Cap’ns an’ singers yonder. Ye’ll note there’s nought left o’ them but their heads an’ a few wee scraps o’ fur’n’bone. It shouldnae be much bother buryin’ them. ’Tis the least ye could do for beasts that served ye well an’ died for ye!”
“Whooooahhhhh!” Idga gave a great swooning moan and fainted in a heap.
As Tam and Doogy marched off, their last sight of the despicable royal taskmasters was Araltum trying to heave his wife’s considerable bulk upright while courtiers rubbed her paws and dabbed rose water upon her brow.
Tam winked at his friend. “Ye’ve a fine way with words, Doogy Plumm, there’s no doubt about that!”
His faithful companion’s tough, scarred face beamed with pleasure. “Och, now ye come tae mention it, mah grannie allus said I was a braw silver-tongued beastie. Have ye no’ seen me charmin’ wee birdies from out the trees?”
Tam shot him a sideways glance. “No, not yet. Let’s see if we can go an’ charm the royal flag off those vermin with our blades, my bold Doogy. But first we’ll go down to the seaside an’ do a spot o’ ship-burnin’ to cheer ourselves up. Nought like a good fire, eh?”
Late afternoon sun cast long shadows as they climbed down the cliffs toward the big vessel perched on the tideline rocks. Both were unaware that through the hole smashed into the forward bow, wickedly glittering eyes were watching them.
Arflow revelled in the freedom of the open sea. This was the young sea otter’s first journey without the constraints of his parents. To date, his life had been spent in the northwestern coastal waters, never venturing far one way or the other. Last spring, Arflow’s family had been visited by distant relatives, a small group of sea otters from the southern coast. Arflow enjoyed their company immensely, especially that of the four young ones who were about his age. Sad when his newfound cousins departed at midsummer to return down south, Arflow promised to come and visit them the following spring. At first, his parents would not hear of their only son, not yet fully grown, going off all that way to the southern coast alone. Arflow nevertheless persisted with his request, despite the unlikelihood that his parents would give in. But at the start of this spring, a miracle happened: the birth of a little sea otter maid to his mother. Named Matunda, the baby kept both parents busy night and day; accordingly, Arflow stepped up his pleas to go visit his cousins. He finally won out one evening when his mother and father were worn out, swum ragged by the antics of little Matunda who, as they complained, was more lively than a sackful of sardines! Arflow’s request was granted, but with a hundred provisos, which included the young otter’s promise to get the proper rest, navigate by the sun and stars, stick to the coast, make his supplies last and mind his manners with others, plus, of course, all the usual things that mother and father sea otters go on about. He agreed to everything without hesitation.
Arflow had been swimming since early morning. Now, at late noon, the golden orb of the sun had not far to sink before it touched the western horizon—a league and a half past the mountain fortress of Salamandastron. He lay on his back and drifted on the calm surface of the ebbtide, happily reflecting on what a glorious day it was to be young and alive! Arflow looked out to where the waters changed from a light opaque green to a deep aquamarine blue in the west. Though starting to tinge a delicate peach in the distance, the sky was still bright periwinkle blue overhead, dotted with small puffball clouds, their undersides shot gold from sunrays. The young sea otter wriggled with delight at the seabirds wheeling and calling above. He giggled as a cormorant winged nearby, splashing him as it dived headlong into the gentle swell. Sheer exuberance flooded over Arflow. He broke out into a sea otter song which he had learned from his father:
“Sing hi yo ho, let every creature know,
I’ll swim where e’er I choose to go,
on rippling wave or tidal flow.
Oooooooh, no lark’s as blithe as me!
Sing hey make way, let nobeast bar my way.
To frowning faces I will say,
cheer up and smile now, come and play.
Oooooooh, be happy on this day!
Don’t cry, ’tis I who laughs at misery,
so young, so full of life and free,
with all the seas to roam and see.
Oh Moooother Nature, list to me, I thank thee gratefully!”
Arflow dived, swooped up and sprang from the water, throwing himself high into the air and landing back with a resounding splash. Then he heard the drum. Boom boom! Boom boom! Boom bumpitty bumpitty boom!
He peered landward at a group of creatures marching along the shoreline. Arflow barely distinguished the distant figures as hares. They were banging a big drum and singing a marching song as they strutted along the beach. Raising a webbed paw, he shouted a greeting, despite knowing they were too far off to hear. That did not bother the young sea otter: they were happy, and so was he.
Suddenly, without warning, things went amiss. In the distance, other dark shapes, a host of them, appeared. Who they were, Arflow could not tell. For a moment, the hares tried to resist the newcomers, but they were outnumbered by more than ten to one. The invaders surrounded them and hurled themselves upon the small band of hares. Screams and agonised cries rent the air, accompanied by shouts and howls. Even from that distance the sea otter could hear them.
Boom! The drum sounded once. Then there was silence as the dark shapes settled on the fallen hares like crows upon carrion. Arflow did not know what was happening, but he sensed that something very bad and wicked had taken place on the shore. Shock and worry beset him after the terrifying swiftness of the incident.
Recovering himself hurriedly, he turned on his stomach and altered course immediately. Cleaving the sea like a blade through satin, Arflow sped back in the direction of Salamandastron. Whatever had occurred, he felt it imperative that Lady Melesme, the Badger Ruler of the mountain, should know. All creatures who were not vermin looked to the fortress and its Badger Ruler, who commanded the army of hares known, and famed, as the Long Patrol. They were sworn to protect the western coastlands, and all about, from harm by foebeasts. Urgency had replaced Arflow’s previous euphoria. The scenic glories of evening’s approach and the joy he had been revelling in were forgotten. He concentrated all his energy into swimming, faster than he had ever moved, toward the distant mountain which stood in the fading light like a giant, purple-shaded sentinel, guarding the shores.
Springtime had made its welcome presence felt at Redwall Abbey. Brother Demple, the skilful mouse who managed most of the cultivation besides serving as Abbey Beekeeper, was arranging seedlings in the vegetable gardens. Everybeast knew that Demple possessed a knowledge of the earth and an unsurpassed talent for growing things. Hitheryon Jem was helping Demple to bed and water the tiny plants. Both creatures knelt on moss-padded sacking, carefully arranging drills of scallions.
The Abbey Gardener watched Jem, nodding approvingly at the old hedgehog’s work. “You like doing this, don’t you, friend?”
Wiping soil from his trowel, Jem straightened his back. “Indeed I do, Brother. I often think I’d have done better as a gardener, instead o’ bein’ just a pawloose rover. Tell me, why’ve ye kept some o’ these scallion sprigs back instead of plantin ’em all at once?”
Demple bedded another seedling in, covering its delicate roots. “Because they’d all grow at once, and we’d have a wonderfully useless bumper harvest. No, Jem, ’tis better to plant vegetables at different times. Then, when we need some, they can be fresh-picked, leaving us room to grow more. Otherwise, our storerooms would be overfilled.”
He waved a paw across the vegetable gardens. “See, beetroots, leeks, lettuce, carrot, onion and cress. But never too many growing at one time, that’s the trick.”
The wise mouse waved his trowel at two Dibbuns who looked as if they were ready to dash right through his produce. “Be careful to walk around the border! Now, how can I help you two rascals, eh?”
Demple remarked under his breath to Jem, “Sometimes I wish we could plant our babes like seedlings. At least it would stop them from charging through my drills like little ploughs.”
Mimsie and Mudge skirted the plants, calling out, “Bruvver Dimples, Fry Glis sended us. We gotta fetch herbers an ’tatoes an” coddyflowers, ’cos he’s makin’ a veggible bake wivva crust on it!”
The kindly Brother smiled. “Stop there, me and Mister Jem will take you to the storeroom to get them.”
Holding the Dibbuns’ paws, Jem and Demple walked the babes back to the Abbey. Jem raised his spiky eyebrows at the molebabe. “Mudge, you should’ve gone to the stores in the first place. Our stuff isn’t ready t’be picked yet.”
Mudge gave him a cheerful grin. “Hurr, us’n’s bee’s only h’infants, zurr. Ow’m uz apposed to know that?”
Jem looked down at the velvety little head. “Didn’t the Friar tell you to get his supplies from the storerooms? I’ll wager he did.”
Mudge smote his brow with a tiny paw. “Moi gudderness, so he’m did, zurr! But oi aspeck uz furgot to amember thart. Us’n’s only got likkle brains, so uz h’offen furgets all kinds uv fings.”
Jem nodded sympathetically. “I know exactly wot you mean, mate. It happens to us old ’uns, too. I get like that a lot lately.”
They were getting the supplies out of the storeroom when Abbot Humble entered. “Hello! What are you two rascals up to, eh?”
Mimsie scowled. “Us not rakkles, we get veggibles for Glis!”
Humble patted her head. “Oh, right, there’s a good little maid. I forgot, we’re having a special supper tonight to honour our moles. Should be good fun, eh, Demple?”
Molebabe Mudge wagged a stern paw at Humble. “Nought funny abowt ee supper. Et bee’s a gurt honner to bee ee moler, loike oi!”
Humble shook Mudge’s tiny paw. “My apologies. I’m sure it is a great honour to be a mole, and you, my friend, are a shining example of a wonderful molebabe!”
Mudge scratched his snout and shuffled his footpaws, a sure sign of embarrassment displayed by Dibbun moles. “Noice uv ee to say so, h’Abbot zurr. Thankee!”
As the babes continued selecting their supplies, Humble remarked to his wandering cousin, “Jem, I was wondering if you could recall the lines that Askor related to you, the rhyme about the Walking Stone. Do you think you could remember his exact words?”
Pursing his lips, Jem stared at the ceiling, as if seeking inspiration there. “Hmm, somethin’ about the sun fallin’ from the sky an’ dancin’. No, I’m sorry, I seem to ’ave forgotten it.”
Mudge left off nibbling a sweet young carrot. “Hurr hurr, you’m furgettin’ to amember jus’ loike oi. Yurr Jem, you’m a dozy ole pudden ’ead, hurr hurr!”
Jem made a stern face at the molebabe. “Don’t be so cheeky to yore elders, ye young rip, an’ leave those carrots alone!” He turned to the Abbot. “Why do ye wish to know the rhyme?”
Humble shrugged. “Just because it’s a puzzle, I suppose. The idea of a Walking Stone intrigues me.”
Jem selected a cauliflower and plucked off a few of its outer stalks. “Hmm, that puzzle had me wonderin’, too, Cousin. Ahah, wait a moment! Screeve wrote it down at the meeting in Cavern Hole. She did, I remember now!”
Humble’s eyes gleamed with pleasure. “What a splendid Recorder we have. Once Screeve makes another copy, Brother Gordale and I will get down to studying it. Mayhaps you and Walt would like to help us?”
Jem agreed instantly. “Aye, we’d love to ’elp out. Me’n Walt dearly likes a good riddle to solve, though we ain’t learned as you Abbeybeasts. Shall we be startin’ today?”
The Abbot shook his head. “Oh, good gracious no! We’ve got to attend the mole festivities tonight. All our Redwallers will be rehearsing their party pieces. I hope we shall see you and Walt doing something—a song, a dance, a poem. Even a trick would be acceptable.”
Jem scratched his spikes thoughtfully. “Well, it’s been awhile since we was called upon t’do such things, but I’m sure we can oblige. I’ll go an’ speak to Walt if’n you’ll excuse me, Cousin.”
Wandering Walt was down in the cellars with Foremole Bruffy and his crew. They were drinking daisybud and dockleaf tonic whilst tracing back through their ancestry. This was a pursuit beloved of moles. Though they were never quite truthful and were given to inventing tales, it was all in good fun.
Ole Jarge, an ancient, grey-backed mole armed with an ear trumpet, pulled a series of bark sketches from his belt wallet. He pointed to each in turn. “Naow, this ’un wurry Burby Longseason, ee’m wurr moi gurt-gurt-granfer’s gurt-granfer. They’m sayed Burby cudd fall in ee barrel of ’tober ale at brekkist an’ drink ee’m way owt afore supper, hurr aye!”
Laughing uproariously, the molecrew stamped the floor with their hefty footpaws, evidently vastly amused at anybeast who could perform this feat. They refilled their tankards and drank deep, waiting for a mole to cap Ole Jarge’s tale.
Jem felt he was intruding on the all-mole gathering. He backed out, politely tugging his headspikes. “Er, you’ll excuse me, friends. Beg pardon. . . .”
A fat, homely molemum bustled him to a seat. “Nay nay, zurr Jem. You’m welcum as ee bumbly bee in ee rose garding. Set ee daown, ee’m ’edgehog bee’s only ee mole with a spoiky ’ead!”
Some of the molecrew fell over backward with laughter at this remark. Jem found himself seated next to Walt, a large tankard of the fizzy tonic thrust into his paw. It tasted odd but rather pleasant, and it made Jem become quite giggly.
The moles continued with their stories. One jolly-looking fellow took the floor. “Hurr, moi ole granmum, she’m lived close by ee gurt mountain. So oi sez to ’er, ‘Granmum, ’ow long’ve ee lived yurr?’ An’ she’m sayed, ‘Since this yurr mountain bee’d only a likkle hill. Oi jus’ woked upp one mornin’ an’ et’d growed thurr in ee noight!’ ”
The moles were now in paroxyms of laughter, rolling about on the floor and gripping their sides. Jem giggled helplessly, even though most of what was being said went right over his head. Clearly, the jolly atmosphere was having a marked effect upon him.
Walt tapped his friend’s shoulder. “Bee’s you’m wanten to see oi, Jem?”
Wiping away mirthful tears, the hedgehog managed to control himself. “Aye, Walt. My cousin the Abbot wants to know if you’n I would like to ’elp him an’ Gordale to solve that puzzle Askor gave us. But not tonight, we’ll do it tomorrow.”
Walt nodded vigourously. “Boi ’okey us’n’s will, Jem. We’m allus been fond o’ rigglers an puzzlers!”
Satisfied that his friend was willing to lend assistance, Jem withdrew from the cellars, leaving the molecrew to their yarn telling. As he went out the door, he heard Walt setting up more gales of merriment with his contribution.
“Yurr, you’m knows moi mate, Ole Jem. Well, ee’m got a cuzzen who’m bee’s his Father, hurr hurr hurr!”
Giggling and chuckling, Jem made his way to the room that he and Walt had been allotted for their stay at the Abbey. The travelling hedgehog, fond of any sort of party, was eagerly looking forward to the evening’s event. Jem sorted through his belongings to choose something appropriate for the festivities. After the long time he’d spent wandering with only Walt for company, this celebration with so many of his Redwaller friends was very welcome.
That evening, Burlop Cellarhog and Sister Armel stood guarding the door to Cavern Hole. It was to remain closed until Foremole Bruffy gave the word. A line formed along the corridor and down the stairs. Redwallers accompanying Dibbuns, all dressed in their festive best, waited, though not too patiently. There were cheers as Abbot Humble came down the stairs with his cousin Jem. Humble was garbed in a pale-green habit girdled with a thick, cream-hued cord. Jem had on a red tunic and a short cape of blue, silky fabric. Everybeast shuffled sideways to make way for them. Humble solemnly tapped three times upon the door.
Foremole’s voice sounded from within. “Who’m bee’s a-knocken’ on this yurr door—be ee a moler?”
The Abbot answered as custom required. “No mole am I, but a Redwaller true, Father of this Abbey. I am come here with my friends, good creatures all. We are here to honour our trusty moles!”
Opening the door wide, Foremole Bruffy stood on the threshold. He had on a flowing cloak of rich brown velvet and a crown fashioned from buttercups, daisies and pale blue milkwort. In his right paw he bore a wand of willow branch with fuzzy catkins growing from it. Smiling from ear to ear, the mole chieftain intoned a traditional poem.
“Yurr bee’s moi ’eart, an’ yurr bee’s moi paw.
Wellcum, an’ henter ee thru this door.
Friends of’n ee bee’s friends o’ moine,
us’ll all ’ave ee gurt ole toime!”
The Redwallers flooded into Cavern Hole, which was lit by coloured lanterns and decorated with spring flowers and streamers of coloured ferns. Moss-padded wall ledges provided seating all around. Three long tables were placed in an open square to leave room for the performers.
A barrel of last summer’s strawberry fizz was on tap, along with October Ale, pale cider and rosehip cordial. The food was mainly good solid mole fare—deeper’n’ever turnip’n’tater’n’beetroot pie, leek and celery soup, spring salads and several enormous cheese-crusted loaves stuffed with chopped hazelnuts and mushrooms. For dessert there were inevitable mounds of hunnymoles, bowls of candied chestnuts and a huge, dark fruitcake decorated with preserved plums and damsons.
No sooner was the supper served than the entertainment commenced. To the music of flutes, tiny drums and a peculiar instrument called a molecordion, the small band struck up a paw-tapping family quadrille. Two rings were formed—the outer one by molemums and grandmums, the inner one by Dibbuns holding sticks. The elders began sticking out first their right, then their left footpaws, whooping and whirling around in a clockwise circle. The Dibbuns circled in the opposite direction, their little faces concentrating seriously as they tapped the floor skilfully between the elders’ footpaws.
The sound of tap tap tap, rap rap rap resounded as the pace sped up. Gruff whoops and infant giggles rang out, the sticks missing footpaws by a hairsbreadth. Clapping in time to the dance, a group of fine bass and baritone moles began singing.
“Oi pray ee zurr doant ’it moi paw,
furr if’n ee do, et will be sore.
Thump ee stick down on ee floor,
an’ us’n’s will be ’arpy.
Rumpitty tum ho rumpitty tum,
moles bee’s ’aven so much fun.
No likkle ’un will strike ’is mum,
’cos they’m luvs ’em so gurtly!”
Twice more they danced, each time tapping and rapping more rapidly until the sticks and paws moved in a blur. The entire ensemble took a bow to hearty applause. Then there were calls for a time-honoured request. “Foremole, do the poem with Abbot Humble. Do the poem!”
Humble and Bruffy, both modest creatures, were coaxed out onto the floor, shaking their heads and protesting.
“Oh no, please, surely you don’t want to hear that old thing, do you?”
“Burr, oi doant thinks as ’ow oi can amember ee wurds!”
In the end, however, they had to concede to the roars of encouragement. Foremole stood up on a stool, striking a noble pose. Humble circled him slowly and began reciting.
“Here am I, the Abbot of all Redwall,
I rule my Abbey with voice and paw.
And who are you, sir, standing there?
Pray tell me now, for I’m not sure!”
Foremole spread his paws wide and shouted, “Oi’m a mole!”
Everybeast chorused, “He’s a mole!”
The Abbot looked surprised, then continued.
“I have a Friar who’s an excellent cook,
’tis said he wrote a recipe book,
and two stout mice, our bells to toll,
and you, forsooth, what is your role?”
Foremole looked at the audience as he repeated, “Oi’m a mole!”
The onlookers shouted even louder, “He’s a mole!”
Humble shook his head, as if he had not heard.
“I have a Keeper who guards our gate,
and another who tends our bees,
and a healer to care for any who ail,
but you’re not one of these!”
Foremole merely pointed to himself as the crowd howled, “He’s a mole!”
The Abbot scratched his headspikes and looked bemused.
“We’ve a Cellarhog who brews our drink,
and a Recorder with both quill and ink,
and guards who pace our Abbey wall,
so what do you do, tell me all?”
Foremole smiled at his audience, who rose to their paws with a deafening roar. “He’s a mole!”
Before the Abbot could reply, Foremole Bruffy held up his paw commandingly. Silence, apart from stifled giggles, fell. He came down off the stool and faced Humble boldly.
“You’m got summ faithful creatures, zurr,
but none as true h’as oi.
’Twas moles built cellars under yurr,
an’ if’n ee arsks these uthers whoi,
they’m’ll tell ee gurtly wot’s moi role. . . .”
The Redwallers, who had been waiting for this final line with unconcealed glee, stood and bellowed en masse, “ ’Cos there’s nobeast can dig a hole like a mole!”
Humble and Foremole bowed and sat down to wild applause. Smiling and shaking paws, they refused pleas for an encore.
Outside, the spring night was tranquil, with scarcely a breeze to ruffle the leaves. Twinkling pinpoints of stars dusted dark velvet skies. In solitary splendour, an apricot-hued crescent moon hung over Redwall Abbey, casting gentle shadows on the ancient stone. From the woven tapestry, the figure of Martin the Warrior stood gazing out between flickering sconces, watching over his citadel of safety and friendship. Whilst far off to the southwest, murder and evil were being committed by a band of vermin, led by a strange beast that had come from the lands of ice beyond the great sea.
Two ermine who had been left behind to repair the big ship upon the rocks watched Rakkety Tam and Doogy Plumm advancing through the dusk. In the ship’s bow, the vermin hid, peering through the hole which had been smashed through the hull on its waterline. It was not difficult to see the two squirrels, since they were both carrying lighted torches. Neither of the ermine knew anything about ship repairing, but they were forced to comply, knowing that disobedience to their savage leader meant instant death. From the gloom of their hiding place, they watched the squirrels move closer.
Drawing his sickle-curved sword, the more hefty of the two ermine licked the blade, grinning wickedly. His companion, a tall, thin beast, whispered a warning. “Don’t slay ’em straight off. They lives on the coast ’ere prob’ly. Two like those’d be bound t’know about pluggin’ the ’ole in this craft an’ makin”er seaworthy.”
The hefty one sniggered. “Aye, mate, good idea. Why should we do all the toil? Let these oafs fix the ship first, then we’ll skin ’em, nice’n’slow. I claim the liddle fat ’un. ’Tis long seasons since I tasted a fine plump squirrel.”
His companion nodded his head. “Right, I’ll take the other. Huh, wonder wot those two idiots are doin’, wanderin’ round the shore at this hour?”
Eyes shining with anticipation, the hefty ermine murmured, “Who cares? Nice of ’em t’bring fire along. We won’t need t’put flint to steel’n’tinder to make a roastin’ fire.”
Moving closer to the edge of the hole in the ship’s hull, he whispered to his partner, “Let’s go an’ welcome ’em!”
As Tam and Doogy reached the ship, the two ermine sidled out onto the rocks with drawn swords. Doogy’s paw dropped to the basket hilt of his claymore. “Weel now, will ye lookit, we’ve got company!”
Tam slid the dirk behind his shield, hiding it from view. He raised his voice, addressing the vermin cheerily. “A good evenin’ to ye, sirs. Is this your vessel? Dearie me, in a bit of a mess, ain’t it?”
The hefty ermine swaggered forward. Tossing his sword in the air, he caught it skilfully. “Aye, she’s got a hole in the bows, as ye can see. But it ain’t nothin’ that you two bumpkins can’t fix up fer us, is it?”
Doogy smiled disarmingly. Ignoring the ermine, he addressed Tam. “Will ye no’ listen tae that saucy auld windbag! He thinks we’re ship repairers!”
Tam wedged his torch between two rocks. “He’s certainly a hardfaced rogue, Doogy. He called us bumpkins. I think we’ll have to repair his manners.”
The thin ermine brandished his sword, snarling, “Shut yore mouths an’ surrender those weapons. D’ye know who yore talkin’ to? We’re two warriors who serve Gulo the Savage. Do as yore told an’ we might let ye live!”
Doogy stuck his torch alongside Tam’s. “Och, ye great string o’ seaweed, ah dinna care who yore Chieftain is. Nobeast talks tae Wild Doogy Plumm like that!”
Without further ado, a fight to the death commenced. The thin one swung his blade at Doogy’s head, but the little Highlander moved with a speed which belied his girth. Leaping forward, he swung his claymore in a single, mighty arc. It smashed the blade from the vermin’s paw, following through across his throat and despatching him with a single blow. The hefty one closed with Tam, trying to spike him from overhead with a downward sweep of the curved blade. Tam whipped his shield up over his head, deflecting the blow. In the same instant, Tam’s dirk took the shocked vermin through the heart in an upward thrust.
Showing no great concern, Doogy enquired as he cleaned his blade, “Did he do any damage tae yore buckler, Tam?”
After inspecting the shield’s centre boss, Tam shrugged. “Only a wee dent. This old shield’s taken enough of them in its time. Let’s search the ship in case there’s any more foebeasts lurkin’ about.”
Climbing through the rift in the hull, they held up their torches and gazed around. Doogy pulled a face, covering his nose with his tail. “Land’s sakes, Tam, the smell in here’s enough tae knock a body flat! Ah wonder who Gulo the Savage is—yon vermin spoke his name as though we ought tae know him.”
Tam bent to examine a locker, which proved to be empty. “That’s the one Driltig mentioned. He’ll be their leader, the beast who goes around eatin’ other creatures. He’s the lad we’ll have to meet up with if we’re to get Araltum’s banner back.”
Grimacing with distaste, Doogy turned over some mouldy seabird feathers and fishbones with his bladepoint. “Aye, well mind ye speak tae him politely. Ach, there’s nae much of any use here, Tam. Let’s be rid o’ this stinkin’ hulk!”
Exiting the ship, they heaved the slain ermine carcases through the holed bow, tossing the lighted torches in after them. Night was fully fallen as Tam and Doogy watched flames and smoke rising. Fire shot up the rigging and through the sails like a hungry beast, sending sparks crackling into the dark sky. Using the light, Tam cast about until he found pawprints.
“They must’ve doubled back this way after raiding the groves. There’s a whole army here, headin’ off north along the shore. Well, Doogy, do we follow ’em now or leave it until dawn?”
Sitting down on some dry sand, Doogy held up his paws to the blaze. “ ’Tis a shame tae be wastin’ sich a braw fire, Tam. Let’s take a wee bite o’ supper an’ sleep here, where ’tis warm an’ upwind o’ the sparks, eh?”
Supper was merely a few apples and some cheese, which they stuck on the points of their swords, toasting them in the glowing prow timbers.
Having eaten, Doogy wrapped his cloak about him, grunting contentedly. “Mercy me, aren’t we livin’ the life o’ kings, Tam. A braw fire in the hearth, a floor o’ sand, a roof o’ sky an’ toasted apples’n’cheese—what more could ye ask for, eh?”
Tam wiped melted cheese from his swordtip, imitating his friend’s thick Highland brogue. “Och, yer easy pleased, mah wee Doogy. We’ve no’ got a pretty maid tae sing us tae sleep!”
Doogy gathered a swathe of his cloak about his face like a headscarf. He began twittering in what he fondly imagined was a maidenly voice. “Och, ye saucy great beastie! Dinna fret, ah’ll sing ye a wee lullaby!”
Tam groaned in mock despair. “Spare me that, Doogy. Ye look like a boiled pudden, an’ ye sound like a toad trapped under a rock!”
He lay back and tried to sleep whilst his friend serenaded him in a gruff bass voice which bore no resemblance to any young maid’s.
“Oh a beetle maid sat in a glade,
an’ she lamented sadly,
‘Mah love’s gone off tae fight the bees,
ah’m feared that he’ll fare badly.
Those bumbly bees are fierce wee things,
wi’ stripey shirts an’ wee small wings.
Their bottoms carry nasty stings,
they’re feisty aye an’ buzzy!’
Och, mah Berty Beetle looked so stern,
he didnae think ’twas funny,
when ah said that ah’d no’ kiss him,
’til he brought me some honey.
He took his club from off the shelf,
an’ said tae me so gravely,
‘Ah’ll fetch ye honey back the noo,’
an’ he marched off right bravely.
’Twas some lang time ’ere he returned,
mah poor love injured sorely.
Ah spread him wi’ some liniment,
an’ listened tae his story.
Alas, poor me tae love a fool.
Did naebeast tell this fellow,
those bees that don’t wear fuzzy shirts,
are wasps striped black an’ yellow?
Wi’ a hey an’ a hoe an’ a lacky doodle don,
midst all this shameful fuss.
’Tis not just birds who live in trees,
an’ not just bees that buzz!”
Tam was snoring before Doogy finished his ballad. The sturdy Highland squirrel glanced huffily at his companion. “Well, thank ye for those sounds of appreciation. Ah’ll bid ye a guid night, an’ hope that some sparks get blown onto yore unfeelin’ tail!”
Scraping sand together into a pillow shape, Doogy laid down his head, allowing slumber to soothe his injured dignity.
Two hours before dawn, both the friends were sound asleep, wrapped in their cloaks and warmed by the glowing embers not far away. Neither had time to wake, or even stir, when dark shapes pounced on them, swiftly cudgelling them senseless. Tam and Doogy were bundled up in their cloaks and lashed onto long spearpoles, then hurried off north along the beach.
Driftail and his gang of eight were all River Rats, robbers and bullies, no strangers to violence, assassins all. They scoured the rivers and streams far and wide, stopping wherever the pickings looked good. Their strategy was simple—they hid among the waterways, ambushing defenceless travellers, lone wanderers and small families. Any creature who could be easily intimidated became their victim. Of late, life had not been very lucky to the River Rats; prey was seemingly thin on the ground. They were forced to work for a living, fishing the waters and grubbing along the banks for berries, fruit and any edible vegetation. At the moment, they had camped on the inlet of a high-banked broadstream, which wended its way over the heath and flatlands, southwest of Mossflower’s vast woodlands.
Dawn was rising as Driftail climbed the sloping bankside to watch for movement amid the scrub and gorse. Behind him, the others were lighting a fire and scratching about to put together some kind of breakfast. Four were trawling the waters for stray fish whilst the others gathered wood and dug for roots. Driftail’s stomach gurgled sourly; he had not eaten for a day and a night. Rising spring dawn in all its beauty was lost on the rat leader. He had seen sunrises come and go, most of them hungry ones of late. Suddenly, his keen eye caught a stirring. Wandering about a flat rocky patch, a stone curlew strode warily in pursuit of insects. The bird pecked at something, lost it and called its soft plaintive cry. Coooooeeeee!
Driftail could not believe his good fortune. Unwinding the sling from about his lean waist, he selected a few pebbles from his pouch. Crawling stealthily along on his stomach, he tried getting closer to the curlew for an easy shot. The bird froze momentarily, then began walking again, as though it sensed it was being hunted. It paced off in the opposite direction from Driftail, not yet frightened enough to leave the flat rocks where the insects lived. Driftail moved forward a little more, loading a pebble into his sling. Then he crouched and began whirling it. The curlew, immediately hearing the disturbance, did a short hop-skip and winged off into the air. The River Rat leader let the sling wrap around his paw, mentally cursing the lost breakfast. Just then, spying a white fox, he fell flat amid the scrub and watched it approach from the west, oblivious to his presence.
Driftail swiftly backshuffled to the streambank. Sliding down the side, he hissed urgently to his gang, “T’row sand onna fire quick! Arm you’selfs, a lonebeast comes diss way!”
A moment later, all mundane activities had ceased. The rat gang—armed with a motley assortment of weaponry: broken knives, sharpened sticks and stone-topped clubs—crouched below the banktop behind their leader.
Runneye, a rat with a leaking squint, peered over the rim at their intended prey. “Worra sorta beast be that ’un, Drift?”
Driftail grabbed Runneye’s tail and pulled him down. “Dat’s a foxer, funny white ’un. Gorra curvity sword anna likkle bag o’ vikkles, too!”
One of the gang ventured a peek over the banktop. “Mebbe dat foxer be good wirra sword, an’ not frykind?”
Driftail hauled the speaker down and cuffed him scornfully. “Gerraravit! On’y one foxer, they’s lots of us, we’ll lay ’im flat! Dat curvity sword an’ de nice belt wot foxer’s wearin’, dey mine, y’hear?”
He slitted his eyes, glaring fiercely at the gang until they lowered their gaze. Knowing the prizes were his without question, he loaded his sling with a rock the size of his paw. “We all shares de vikkles out.”
The white fox was close to the bankside when Driftail popped up and launched his stone, striking the fox on the side of his jaw. He did not fall but clapped a paw to his face, staggering about half stunned.
Driftail howled triumphantly, “Quicknow, gerrim!”
The gang charged out and mobbed the white fox, dragging him down. A blow from Runneye’s club finished the job, knocking the fox unconscious. They bundled him down the bank to the stream’s edge.
Driftail dashed down the slope in time to kick one of the gang who was wielding a rusty knife. “Mud’ead, not killim yet, I want words wid diss one!”
Whilst the rats fought over the fox’s small ration bag, Driftail relieved his captive of the belt and sickle sword. Grabbing some tough vines, he bound the prisoner’s paws together and slung water over the fox’s head to revive him.
It took awhile for the strange creature to come around. He struggled briefly with his bonds, then looked up at the ugly, grinning faces surrounding him.
Runneye sniggered nastily. “Heeheehee, gotcha self inna big troubles now, pretty white foxer!”
Elbowing Runneye out of the way, Driftail leaned down and drew the sickle-shaped sword. “Wot name be yer called, foxer?”
The captive glared at Driftail but maintained his silence.
The River Rat tapped the point of the blade on the fox’s chest. “Ya be dumb, or jus’ shoopid, eh? I be Chief round ’ere! When I axe question, yew answer quick, or I skin yer slow. Wherra ye commed from, foxer? Speak!”
The prisoner stared levelly, unafraid of the rat. “From the land of ice, across the great sea.”
Driftail had never heard of or seen a great sea. He kicked the fox savagely. “Ha, fibba lie! How yew comed, who yew comed wid—eh, eh?”
The white fox replied flatly, “We came in a great ship, a band of us one hundred strong, led by Gulo the Savage.”
Driftail sensed a note of contempt in his captive’s voice. He kicked the bound fox several times more. Then he strutted around the streambank, doing a bad imitation of the fox’s voice for the benefit of his gang. “Ho yes, I come onna big shippen, wid a strong band of hunnerd, an’ Glugo der Sanvage. Hah, we be scared, eh?”
Hoots of derision came from the River Rat gang, taking a cue from their chief’s disbelief of the fox’s explanation.
One of the rats began pretending that he was all of a tremble. He knelt down by the bound fox, wailing piteously, “Waaaaah, I be reel frykenned. Save me, save me!”
The fox waited for the jeering to die down before he replied, “So ye should be feared, stupid fool!”
Driftail struck him across the face with the flat of his sword. “Yew gorra smart tongue, foxer. Afore I chop it off, tell me, where be all dese hunnerd beast an’ yore big Glugo now, eh?”
For the first time since his capture, the white fox smiled. He stared over Driftail’s shoulder at the top of the bank. “Right behind you, rat!”
Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Driftail and his gang whirled around at the sound. White foxes and ermine, all armed to the fangs, lined the banktop. Two of them bore a large elaborate banner between them; another two were positioned on each side of an ornate drum. Standing between them, beating the drum, stood a beast straight out of nightmare—Gulo the Savage. He exuded power and ferocity. With eyes glittering insanely and saliva dripping from his bared fangs, he struck the drum one more time. Boom! As he pointed the drumstick at the rats, his army swept down on them, chanting, “Gulo! Gulo! Gulo! Gulo!”
Petrified with fright, the small River Rat gang was swiftly surrounded. This army looked more vicious and numerous than they could imagine. Gulo stalked past them disdainfully, followed by two of his captains—a white fox, Shard, and an ermine, Dirig—and four guards. Further up the bank, they set the stolen standard up and laid the drum flat, where Gulo could sit on it.
Closely guarded, the River Rats were forced to sit on the stream edge, well away from Gulo. They were left to ponder their fate in silence. Anybeast who tried to look up, or whisper, was soundly beaten with spearbutts. After a while, Zerig, the white fox whom they had held captive, came among them.
He seized Driftail by the ears, dragging him free of the rest. Yanking the belt from the rat leader and retrieving his sword, he gestured upstream. “Lord Gulo will see thee now!”
Now that a fire had been lit for him, Gulo perched on the rim of the drum, holding a bulrush stalk over the flames. Spitted on it was the very curlew which had eluded Driftail but had not been so lucky when one of Gulo’s ermine had brought it down with a well-aimed arrow. Not bothering to have the bird plucked, Gulo was roasting it. A rank stench of burning feathers hung on the air. The wolverine savage glanced up as Zerig thrust Driftail into his presence. The four guards shoved the rat into a kneeling position within reach of Gulo, who continued his cooking as he eyed the trembling River Rat. Gulo the Savage was well aware that he created this effect in lesser beasts.
Driftail’s eyes began flicking back and forth. Betraying his fear, he almost leaped up at the sound of Gulo’s harsh, grating tones. “What are ye doing around here, rat? What name do ye go by?”
Driftail strove to keep the shrillness of panic out of his voice. “We lives onna water, fish an’ get roots to eat. I be called Driftail . . . Lord.”
The rat’s voice faltered as Gulo stared at him. Taking the curlew from the fire, Gulo tested it with a long, sharp claw. “Driftail, eh? Ye ever see one like me passing hereabouts?”
The rat shook his head vigourously. “No, no, never see’d one like you afore round ’ere—on me life, no!”
After pulling the bird off its spit, Gulo took a bite, his wicked fangs ripping through burning feathers and bone into the still raw meat. Without warning, he lashed out with the thick bulrush spit, whipping it into Driftail’s face as he roared, “You lie, rat! Where is the Walking Stone? Speak!”
Tears spilled from Driftail’s eyes as he nursed his stinging face. “Lord, I not lie. Wot be Walkin’ Stone?”
The bulrush whistled through the air, again and again, each time followed by Driftail’s pitiful screeching. Gulo the Savage threw aside the broken rush stalk. Digging his claws into the rat’s narrow chest, he dragged him forward. Bringing his face close to Driftail’s ear, Gulo rasped, “I’ll ask ye again, rat, an’ this time ye’d best tell me what I want to hear!”
Driftail’s face was a mask of frozen agony as his interrogator’s claws pierced his hide. Gulo hissed, “The beast who was like me—when did he pass by here?”
Driftail was not stupid; he knew he had to say something to keep himself alive, so he resorted to a lie. “Aaaaargh! T’ree, no, four night ago, diss beast pass ’ere, goin’ to d’east!”
Gulo tightened his cruel grip. “The stone he carried with him . . . of what size was it?”
Driftail quickly reckoned to himself that, if anybeast were to carry a stone on a long journey, it could not be too huge. He babbled on, hoping to buy himself some time. “Not bigga stone, only der size of, er, er, apple!”
Gulo’s voice dropped to a whisper. It sounded like a blade scraping across glass. “Those who lie are bound to die!”
Runneye and the other rats, having heard the screams, huddled together in alarm. The same white fox, Zerig, came with the four guards. He pointed to Runneye. “Bring this one next!”
Lifted clear off the ground, Runneye was borne away, whimpering, “I never did no’tink! Driftail be’s Chief!”
The River Rat was flung roughly to the ground, landing facedown, not daring to look up. However, he was compelled to obey the voice of his captor.
“Look at me, rat, I am Gulo the Savage!”
One terrified glance from Runneye told him all. The rat was staring into the face of a living nightmare. An image flashed through Runneye’s mind of an unfledged sparrow facing a serpent. Gulo’s sadistic nature revelled in tormenting those he held helpless. “What name be ye called, rat?”
Gulo watched, amused by his victim’s stammering. “R . . . R . . . Runneye.”
The wolverine spat out fragments of scorched feather. “Tell me, what do ye eat?”
It was a strange question. Runneye tried to compose himself and answer as best he could. “Fishes, bird egg, mebbe bird if’n we catch ’im. Most time jus’ der roots’n’berries.”
Gulo leaned forward. The smile that crept over his evil face was not a pleasant sight. Runneye caught a whiff of his fetid breath as the savage whispered, “Do ye know what is the best of food? Can ye tell me what Gulo and his warriors like to eat, can ye guess?”
Puzzled, the River Rat shook his head. “No.”
The wolverine bared his awesome fangs. “We eat anybeast that moves. Birds, fish, snakes . . . rats.”
Runneye’s good eye widened as he mouthed the word “R . . . rats!”
Gulo nodded, his savage eyes glittering insanely. Runneye gave a strangled moan and fainted with fright.
The wolverine kicked the senseless rat. “Take this weak fool and feed him to my warriors. Bring the next one here!”
The handsome white fox, Shard, who was Gulo’s leading captain, was standing behind the drum. He leaned over and spoke respectfully into his master’s ear. “Methinks we will learn nought from these creatures, Lord. Thy power over them is so terrible that they cannot talk. Soon ye will have slain them all.”
Gulo growled impatiently, but he heeded Shard’s counsel. “So, what would thy method be, Shard?”
The white fox had his answer ready. “Let me question the rats, Lord. ’Tis clear they have not seen thy brother, nor do they know what the Walking Stone is. Mayhap I will get some information from this one when he revives. Then thou can do what thou wilt with the rest. Just allow me to try, O Savage One.”
Gulo picked a fragment of feather from between his fangs. “If they know nought of Askor, or my Walking Stone, how can the brainless idiots tell thee anything?”
Shard spoke soothingly to placate his ferocious master. “One may catch more birds with honey than with stones, Lord. I have my ways. Oftimes creatures will tell me things they thought they did not know. Mayhap the rats know not thy brother or the Stone, but methinks they would know where a beast carrying such treasure would go, to hide it. ’Tis better finding out such information than merely slaying and eating them, eh?”
Gulo had always been a beast of swift action, never of deep thoughts. He paused a moment, weighing his decision before staring at his captain through narrowed eyes. “Thou art cunning, Shard, but foxes were ever cleverbeasts. Canst thou find out such things for me?”
The fox bowed. “I live only to serve the mighty Gulo!”
Throughout the remainder of the day the wolverine rested, eating and taking his ease, letting his clever captain take care of future planning and strategy. Gulo knew that if any scheme did not please him, he could change it to suit himself at a single stroke.
Shard sat with his mate, Freeta, who watched him with calculating eyes. “So then, is the Savage still devouring everything that moves, or has he started using his brain and not his fangs?”
Shard gave a swift glance around, making sure nobeast was party to their conversation. He tapped his forehead. “Nay, ’tis I who is Gulo’s brain. He is merely a dangerous weapon which must be controlled. I will need thy help to question the rats. We must learn more about this warm land of plenty, this place is a paradise.”
Freeta agreed. “Aye, far better than the lands of ice beyond the great sea. Tell me what I must do to aid thee, Shard.”
Eventide fell softly over the flatlands in a wash of crimson and purple. Gulo the Savage lounged by his fire, picking over the bones of a pike. He looked up expectantly as Shard approached. The white fox hunkered down, slightly out of the wolverine’s reach; it was always wise, Shard had learned through experience, to take such precautions in the presence of Gulo.
Casting aside the pike bones and licking his claws, Gulo half-closed his glittering eyes. “Well, what news do ye bring me, Captain?”
Shard made his report. “It is as ye said, O Savage One. The rats know nought of the Stone or thy brother. But in the early winter two beasts, a hedgepig and a burrower, were espied, travelling northeast into the woodlands which lie ahead. Betwixt them they pulled a cart.”
Gulo came instantly alert. “What was in this cart?”
Shard shrugged eloquently. “Who could say? They had entered the woodlands before the rats could catch up with them. Those two beasts were the only creatures who moved through this territory since the rats have been here. Mayhaps we could hazard a guess—yon cart could have contained Askor, fleeing thy wrath, hiding from view with the Walking Stone.”
Gulo yawned moodily. “I grant thee, ’tis possible, but where would they be going, and why should they be hiding Askor and taking him with them, eh?”
The white fox explained his reasoning. “Ask thyself, what resistance could two lowly creatures put up against a wolverine? As to whence they have gone, the rats all know of such a place. ’Tis a great stone fortress called Redwall. They say many great treasures are stored within its walls. The rat thou ordered slain, Runneye, he knows exactly where ’tis to be found. A good thing we did not slay him, Lord.”
Gulo, ignoring his captain’s object lesson, was clearly excited. “The rat can take us there?”
Shard touched his sword hilt, smiling thinly. “He loves life too much to refuse.”
Gulo showed his fangs as his claws began working eagerly. Shard noticed the insane light burning in his eyes. “Ye did well, Shard. We will go to this place of treasures. What did ye say ’tis called?”
The white fox repeated the name. “Redwall!”
Pain was the first thing Rakkety Tam MacBurl wakened to. His head was one massive ache, and his limbs could not move. Upon opening one eye slowly, Tam found himself lying bound to a pole on the floor of a lantern-lit rock cavern. He tried to rise but fell back, the pole clattering against the stone floor.
Behind him, a voice sounded. “I say, chaps, this tall rascal’s awake, wot!”
From someplace close by, Doogy could be heard, regaining his senses volubly. “Yerrah, ye cowards, sneakin’ up on a body an’ bludgeonin’ him. Get these ropes off mah paws!”
Another voice rang out. “I do believe the little fat villain’s awake, too!”
Paws grabbed hold of Tam and Doogy, dragging them roughly over to the rock wall and propping them up in a seated position. Over a score of hares gathered around them. Tam held his silence until he could make sense of the situation they were in, but not so Doogy.
Furious, the small Highlander roared at an older hare—a sinewy, athletic-looking beast with a battered face, who was wearing a green tunic with three stripes affixed to the sleeve. “Did ye no’ hear me, ye great flappin’, cloth-eared clod? Ah told ye tae get these ropes off’n me!”
The hare avoided his gaze, setting his eyes right ahead. “Sorry, mate, h’I can’t do that h’until Lady Melesme sees ye.”
A tall, elegant hare, much younger than the other, stepped forward. He was wearing a red tunic and had a long rapier belted about his waist. Placing a footpaw upon Doogy, he pushed him flat.
“Get down on the floor, like the confounded, murderin’ snake you are, sirrah!”
Though he was tightly bound, Doogy managed to slew around. His teeth clashed as he snapped at the hare’s footpaw, causing him to dodge backward as the prisoner ranted, “Ah’m no murderer, an’ ye’ve no right tae call me a snake, ye great snot-nosed rabbet!”
The hare raised his footpaw to kick Doogy. “How dare y’call me a rabbit! I’ll teach you a lesson. . . .”
He was wrenched clean off his paws and hurled to one side by the older, green-tunicked hare, who berated him. “Nah, nah, young master Ferdimond, try to be’ave yoreself like a h’officer an’ a gentlebeast, sir!”
The young hare, Ferdimond De Mayne, argued back vociferously. “Bad show, Sarge. You shouldn’t be takin’ the side of that bloomin’ assassin! We’ve lost eight comrades good’n’true to the likes of that confounded worm. I’m going to knock his bally block off, first chance I get. You see if I don’t, wot wot!”
Tam interrupted, calling out indignantly, “That should be easy to do, he’s unable to defend himself. Doogy’s right, we’re not murderers!”
Suddenly the sergeant bellowed, “Stand fast allbeasts for the Lady Melesme!”
The Badger Ruler of Salamandastron strode in among them. Melesme was no longer young, but she was an imposing creature. Tall and powerfully built, she looked every inch a ruler, though clad only in a simple homespun smock with a forge apron belted over it. Turning her dark, liquid eyes upon the sergeant, Melesme spoke in a voice which boomed around the cavern.
“What’s going on here, Wonwill?”
Sergeant Wonwill took a smart pace forward and saluted. “Marm, we h’apprehended these ’ere squirrels near the spot where the slaughter took place. They was loiterin’ round by a burnt-out ship, so we took ’em in for questionin’, marm.”
Melesme beckoned, and Arflow the young sea otter was escorted through the gathering of hares. The badger indicated both captives. “Have you seen either of these before, young ’un?”
Arflow shook his head. “No, marm, it wasn’t them.”
Tam decided it was time to speak his piece. “I could’ve told ye that! It couldn’t have been us who did whatever was supposed to have been done. We were chasin’ after the Gulo beast an’ his white vermin, on the orders of Araltum Squirrelking an’ Idga Drayqueen!”
The Badger Ruler raised her heavy eyebrows. “But you two have the look of warriors. How did you come to be taking orders from those two overblown little idiots? Fortindom, Wilderry, release them!”
Two capable-looking hares, with medals and stars on their pink tunics, marched out. Whipping out their sabres, they sliced through the bonds with a few masterful strokes.
Tam and Doogy stood up, massaging the life back into their numbed paws. Knowing they were in the presence of a Badger Ruler, they bowed courteously. Tam elected himself spokesbeast for them both.
“I thank ye, marm. I’m Rakkety Tam MacBurl, an’ this is my friend, Wild Doogy Plumm. We serve Araltum an’ Idga because we pledged our oath an’ our swords in their service. The only way we can be freed from the bond is to take back an’ return their Royal Banner, stolen by the vermin.”
Melesme issued a mirthless grunt. “Royal Banner, indeed! Is that what those two idiots are up to these days? I’ve had them watched since they came to my groves. Oh, they’re no harm to honest beasts, so I’ve let them be, but I don’t want to ally myself to fools. What is this Royal Banner thing, Tam?”
The warrior squirrel’s jaw tightened. “Just a symbol, marm, part of their silly pomp an’ ceremony. What matters more is that a lot o’ squirrels, some of ’em our friends, were massacred when the Gulo beast stole the flag. Araltum an’ Idga care more for the return of it than the lives of their subjects. We’ll get the flag back, but me an’ Doogy are more concerned with settlin’ the score.”
Doogy’s teeth gritted audibly. “Aye, lady. Guid warriors cannae rest ’til those dirty slayers are paid out in steel for their crimes, ye ken?”
Melesme nodded. “Well spoken, sir. But tell me, who is this Gulo beast? Have you seen him?”
Tam answered. “No, marm, but we’ve seen his tracks, an’ they look like no other creature that ever walked this land. The pawprints are as big as those of a grown badger, but this beast has huge, curved claws, though the fur is so long that it blurs the pawmark. One other thing I must tell ye, the Gulo beast an’ its followers, about a hundred of ’em, feed off the flesh of their victims. We’ve seen the evidence, marm.”
The Badger Ruler looked grim. “I know this—we lost eight fine young hares to them. There was little left by the time my Long Patrol got to the spot. Also there is a drum, we made it for Abbot Humble of Redwall Abbey, as a gift. That has gone the way of your flag. Though such a thing cannot compare with the death of our hares, nonetheless, it is a point of honour that we take back this drum and give it to its rightful owner.”
There were heartfelt murmurs of agreement from the hares. Melesme held up a huge paw, restoring silence. “I have scouts out following the Gulo beast’s tracks. At dawn, a force of one hundred fighting hares will leave Salamandastron. They will track the vermin and their chief until they face them. It is my command that they send those evil murderers, everybeast of them, to Hellgates!”
She turned to the two squirrels. “Will you be joining in the hunt?”
Doogy nodded. “Ah’m thinkin’ ye’ll have tae be marchin’ at the double tae get at yon vermin afore we do. Eh, Tam?”
Ferdimond De Mayne pawed at his rapier hilt. “Indeed, sah, an’ I say ye’ll be eatin’ our flippin’ dust if ye try to keep up with the Long Patrol. Wot wot!”
A shout of agreement came from the hares but was quickly stifled by a stern bark from Lady Melesme. “Silence! Stop this foolishness! You officers and any other of my warriors will answer to me if you do not work together with our two friends. Is that clear?”
Captain Derron Fortindom and Lancejack Wilderry drew their sabres and saluted, replying together, “Crystal clear, marm!”
Melesme beckoned Sergeant Wonwill forward. “You are older and more experienced than any. I want you to keep an eye on these younger bucks. Understood?”
The scar-faced veteran touched a paw to his eartip. “My ’eart’n’paw, marm, h’I’ll keep the young rips in line. H’attention, Long Patrol! Ye’ve got less’n three hours to rest, provision h’an choose yore weapons. At crack o’ dawn I wants to see ye on parade, smartly turned out an’ fit t’march. Brigadier Crumshaw’ll be on the square, so ye knows wot to h’expect. Dismiss!”
Tam approached Melesme. “Marm, we need our blades.”
She stopped Ferdimond from walking off. “De Mayne, return these warriors’ weapons, please.”
There was still a rebellious glint in Ferdimond’s eye, but he complied with the order promptly. Tam accepted his shield and blades from the hare, but Doogy was out to rankle him.
“Och, mind ye dinna slice yore paws on mah claymore, laddie. ’Tis a sword for braw beasties, no’ a fancy-talkin’ rabbet like yoreself who carries a bodkin!”
Ferdimond threw Doogy’s gear on the ground. “Get ’em yourself, treewalloper. Just call me rabbit one more time, an’ y’see this rapier? I jolly well promise ye it’s no bodkin, an’ it’ll chop the insolent snout off ye!”
Doogy belted on his claymore, grinning broadly. “Oh, dearie me, ole fellow, ole chap, ye’ve got me all scairt stiff now. Ach, away with ye, rabbet!”
They stood glaring at each other until Sergeant Wonwill stepped between them. “Nah, nah, you gennelbeasts, break it up! You ’eard Lady Melesme’s h’orders, be’ave yoreselves!”
Tam pulled Doogy away. “Come on, mate, let’s find someplace to get a spot o’ shuteye for a few hours. What’s the matter with ye, Doogy? Just ignore Ferdimond!”
The little Highlander followed Tam reluctantly. “Yon taffy-nosed buck is strokin’ mah tail the wrong way. Ah’ll have tae teach him some wee manners, so ah will!”
Tam led his friend down to a grotto, thickly carpeted in dry grass and soft moss. He waved a paw under his nose. “Listen t’me, Wild Doogy Plumm. If yore bound to cross blades with that hare, then wait until we’re clear of here. I won’t have ye abusin’ Lady Melesme’s hospitality. Now curl yore tail up an’ get some sleep!”
The sergeant appeared with two steaming beakers which gave off an aromatic scent. “Get this down yore throats afore ye go t’sleep, buckoes. H’it’ll do the bumps on yore noggins a power o’ good. Mister Doogy, pay no ’eed to young De Mayne—that un’s perilous an’ lightnin’ fast with a blade, but Ferdimond’s young an’ ot’eaded like you, so steer clear of each h’other.”
Tam eyed the sergeant’s battered face curiously. “Thankee, Sarge. Ye don’t mind me sayin’, but all ye carry is a slingshot. Is that yore only weapon?”
The hare winked and held up his paws. “Weapons, mate? These is my weapons. I’m a boxin’ hare. The ole slingshot’s good for long-range hittin’, but fer close work there ain’t nothin’ better’n these two trusties!”
Doogy sipped his fragrant cordial, feeling the headache recede immediately. He inspected the sergeant’s clenched paws. “A boxin’ hare, eh? What manner o’ beastie is that, Sarge?”
Wonwill dropped into a fighting pose, lowering his brows and circling with both paws. Like lightning, he shot out a right, then a left, the air whistling around him as he danced lightly, ducking and weaving, throwing punches. “I was born to box, that’s me trade. Y’know why they calls me Wonwill, no? Then I’ll tell ye. If’n me right don’t get ye, then me left one will. Left or right, mates, either one will set ye on yore tail. Wonwill, see?”
Doogy was mightily impressed. “Ah wouldnae mind learnin’ how tae box, Sarge. Mayhap ye’ll give me some wee lessons sometime, eh?”
Wonwill relaxed, dropping his guard. “Per’aps I will, mate, when I ain’t busy lookin’ arter the young Patrollers. Mark my words, they ain’t h’experienced, but they’re Salamandastron born’n’bred. All made o’ the right stuff, an’ perilous brave. I’ve just got ter stop ’em knockin’ the stuffin’ outta one another. Know wot I mean?”
He gave Doogy a wink. “I’ll bid ye a good night now.”
Following their few hours of sleep, both squirrels woke refreshed, with all aches and pains banished. Tam tickled his friend’s ear, and Doogy leapt up.
“Top o’ the mornin’ tae yeh, Tam. Ah’m feelin’ braw an’ sprauncy the noo. Yon cordial did me a power o’ good!”
Just as Tam was about to reply, a fat, smiling hare entered the grotto, bearing a tray of breakfast which he placed between them. Unshouldering two filled haversacks, he saluted comically. “Mornin’ chaps, wot! Name’s Wopscutt, Corporal Butty Wopscutt. In charge of the jolly old supplies an’ provisions. Tuck doncha know, vittles for the use of!”
Doogy returned his friendly smile. “Mah thanks tae ye. Vittles for the use of what?”
Butty did a scut twirl and waggled both ears. “For the use of eatin’, o’ course. That’s the way we talk here, wot. I’d shift my tail if I were you, old Crumshaw’s takin’ the parade. Wouldn’t keep him waitin’ if I was you, chaps. No sir, not his nibs, he’d have your tails for tea an’ your guts for garters. So quick’s the word an’ sharp’s the jolly old action, wot wot!”
The tubby corporal marched off without further ado. After belting his blades on, Tam hefted his shield and fixed the Sgian Dhu in his cap. “Up ye come, Doogy Plumm, this is the life for us. Marching with real fighters who know what they’re doin’, an’ do it right!”
Brigadier Buckworthy Crumshaw was a fine figure of a hare—from his eye monocle, to his bristling moustache, to the highly polished buttons on his freshly brushed pink tunic, down to the short swagger cane he carried. The brigadier was smart as paint, and old school to the rigid backbone. He squinted ferociously through his monocle, taking in the fivescore ranks of Long Patrol hares, all standing stiffly to attention. That was when he caught Tam and Doogy creeping up, trying to slip into line unnoticed.
Crumshaw pointed his stick at the latecomers. “Parade at first light o’ dawn means just that, an’ not two flippin’ blinks of an eye later, laddie bucks. Sergeant, are these two laggards supposed t’be with us? Get ’em fell into line immediately!”
Wonwill saluted and bounced forward a pace. “Sah! They is with us, sah! Mister Rakkety Tam MacBurl h’an’ Mister Wild Doogy Plumm. Ye’ll have to h’excuse ’em lollygaggin’ an’ loiterin’, sah. We had to boff ’em over the brains an’ knock ’em cold to capture ’em last night, sah!”
Tam and Doogy fell in on the left flank of the first rank. The brigadier circled both squirrels, his sharp, monocled eye inspecting them. “Harrumph! Well, at least you chaps have the look o’ seasoned warriors—very good, very good. Eyes front! Seen any action have ye, wot?”
Both squirrels knew a good officer when they saw one. Doogy kept his face straight as he barked out, “Aye, we’ve fought tae get porridge in the breakfast line an’ wounded several bad cooks. Sah!”
Tam added another old campaigner’s jest. “An’ both our blades can peel onions, though we never shed a tear about it. Sah!”
A faint smile hovered around the brigadier’s moustache. “Well said! You two rogues will fit the bally bill fine. So, remember, your mothers might’ve loved ye, but I don’t. It’ll be march ’til your paws drop off, sleep where ye drop an’ blood’n’vinegar for supper. Do I make myself clear, you horrible squirrels?”
Doogy replied, “Clear, sah! ’Twill be a wee life o’ luxury!”
Morning sunlight sparkled off the sea. As a warm breeze ruffled the dry sand above the tideline, the ranks stood fast until Lady Melesme appeared at the main cave entrance. The Long Patrol waved blades, bows, slings, axes and javelins, hailing her with their wild war cry. “Eulaaaaaliiiiiaaaaaa!”
She held up a paw, then addressed her warriors. “Find the vermin who murdered our young hares. Take no prisoners!”
Sergeant Wonwill bellowed out the marching orders. “H’atten . . . shun! Patrol will form off h’in columns of five! Look to yore dressin’, eyes right! By the left, quick march!”
Away they went, with paws pounding up sandy dust as the sergeant shouted, “Present colours!”
A pennant-shaped green banner, centred with a white representation of the mountain fortress, was raised as they paraded past Lady Melesme. Two hares set up a march beat on small snare drums, and a hundred lusty voices began singing a regimental marching song.
“Farewell, dear mother, I’ve been sent,
to march away from here,
along with my good regiment,
an’ a bullyin’ Brigadier.
What a sight to see! Don’t cry for me!
I’m a hare that’s fair, I do declare,
I’ll follow the drums most anywhere!
The dear old Sergeant tucks us up,
he sings to us so nicely.
He’s pretty as a buttercup,
dressed in a frilly nightie.
What a sight to see! Don’t cry for me!
I’m a hare that’s fair, I do declare,
I’ll follow the drums most anywhere!
I’m choked by dust, me paws are split,
me back is broke in two.
I have one wish an’ this is it,
to stay at home with you.
What a sight to see! Don’t cry for me!
I’m a hare that’s fair, I do declare,
I’ll follow the drums most anywhere!”
The march progressed northeast from Salamandastron, cutting at an angle across the shore into the dunes. It was a warm day, and the pace was kept up briskly. As they slogged up the sandhills, Tam winked at Doogy. “This is better than prancing around the groves, wonderin’ what new tricks an’ fancies Idga an’Araltum are up to, eh? Hah, just listen to the Sarge givin’ those greenpaws a bit of his mind.”
Wonwill was haranguing the slower marchers in typical sergeant fashion. “Step lively now, ye bunch o’ ditherin’ daisies—left, right, left, right! Flummerty, sort ’em out, that’s your left! Pick up those paws, you ’orrible little h’animal. Straighten that back, missie, think ’ow lucky you are. Out for a nice walk on a lovely day, eh! Folderon, wipe that smile offa yore face, missie, an’ stop flutterin’ yore lovely eyelashes at young Flunkworthy, or I’ll ’ave yore scut for supper! Keep up at the back there—chins in, chests out, shoulders back, eyes front. That’s the ticket, me buckoes!”
Doogy chuckled at the dismayed faces of the three back rankers. “Flunkworthy, Folderon an’ Flummerty, eh, the awkward squad. Poor wee beasties, they dinna know the sergeant’s all bark an’ no bite tae the young ’uns.”
Tam spat out sand kicked up by the front rank. “Aye, but they’ll learn soon enough. ’Tis one thing goin’ for a walk an’ another keepin’ pace with a regiment.”
It was midnoon before the brigadier gave orders to call a halt, and that was only because he was waiting on reports from the forward scouts. They set up camp where dunes and sand gave onto the heath and flatlands.
Tam and Doogy sat with Wonwill and Corporal Wopscutt, resting whilst they dined off haversack rations. Crumshaw had given orders that no fires were to be lit. The food was plain but nourishing—thick slices of chestnut and barley bread with wedges of yellow cheese, washed down with mint and pennycloud cordial.
Ferdimond De Mayne was sitting with another group close by. His voice could be heard clearly as he directed remarks at Doogy.
“Haw haw haw! Wild Doogy Plumm, eh? What sort of a bloomin’ name is that for a chap, wot? Fat little braggart with a silly great tail who wears a flippin’ skirt. No wonder he’s jolly well wild. Haw haw haw!”
Doogy reached for his claymore, growling, “Ah’ll put a button on yon lanky toad’s lip. That’ll teach him tae mock mah kilt!”
With a firm paw, the sergeant prevented Doogy rising. “Stay put, mate. Pay no ’eed t’young De Mayne. Only a fool rises to the bait of h’another fool.”
Tam had a grip on his friend’s shoulder. “He’s right, Doogy, let it be. The time’ll come when you’ll face him, but not right now.”
The little Highlander thumped his paw against the ground. “Aye well, it cannae come soon enough for me, ye ken!”
Further discussion was cut short by the arrival of two young hares, the scouts Kersey and Dauncey, a twin brother and sister. The brigadier joined his sergeant’s group, beckoning the scouts to sit with them.
“Strewth, here’s the best young gallopers we’ve had in many a season, wot. Corporal Wopscutt, bring ’em vittles an’ something t’drink. Well, chaps, how did the reccy go?”
Dauncey was still panting as he threw a salute. “Phew! Followed the vermin tracks nor’east, sah. . . .”
Kersey continued as her brother paused. “Still the same bunch of villains, sah, with that odd-pawed beast leadin’ ’em. . . .”
Then it was Dauncey’s turn. “They were at a high-banked stream yesterday. Seems they captured some River Rats—Driftail’s bunch it was, sah. . . .”
The brigadier’s monocled eye swivelled to Kersey. “Our old foe Driftail, eh? How did ye know ’twas him?”
Kersey pulled a digusted face. “We found his blinkin’ head, sah. Dreadful thing t’report, but the vermin ate the River Rats!”
Dauncey duly followed his sister. “All save two, sah, whom they took along with ’em when they broke camp. Good golly gosh! Fancy scoffin’ a gang o’ scummy rats, filthy vermin, wot!”
Crumshaw polished his monocle studiously. “I wouldn’t shed any tears over those blighters, young ’un. They’ve done their share of slayin’ in the past. A few less for us to bother about, wot! Where d’you estimate the vermin’s present position, miss?”
Kersey pointed. “Still goin’ slightly east, sah, but cuttin’ off sharp north into Mossflower Woodlands. They should reach the tree fringe by evenin’.”
The twins fell upon the food and drink which Butty had brought them. Wonwill exchanged glances with Crumshaw. “Puts ’em a day an’ some hours in front of us, sah.”
The direction his scouts had given suddenly dawned on the brigadier. The monocle dropped from his eye. “Great wallopin’ weasels! Turnin’ sharp north—that can mean only one thing. Those vermin are bound t’run smack into the blinkin’ Abbey!”
Tam had never visited the place, but he knew what Abbey Crumshaw was referring to—“Redwall Abbey.”
Doogy shrugged. “Oh, that Abbey. Och, we came doon by followin’ the shoreline, so we never got tae see it.”
Brigadier Crumshaw sprang upright. “Well, yore goin’ t’see it afore yore much older, laddie. We leave straightaway, Sergeant. Break camp! You two gallopers, go on ahead at the double. Report back t’me when ye find where the vermin entered the woodlands. We’ll probly make it to the broadstream with a forced march late this evenin’. We’ll sally forth at dawn an’ cut down their lead, wot!”
Within an incredibly short time, Tam and Doogy found themselves on the march again—packs on backs, blades belted, kicking up a column of dust upon the flatlands in the ranks of the Long Patrol. Wonwill brought up the rear with Butty and Lancejack Wilderry.
There was little humour in the sergeant’s tones as he exhorted the marchers. “Move yoreselves now, pick ’em up an’ put ’em down at the double! Speed up now, lef’ right, lef’ right, there ain’t no room for stragglers in the Patrol. Stir yore idle selves!”
One of the old stagers hastened them on with a speedy chant.
“I’m chewin’ dust because I must,
as long as I’ve got mates to trust,
we’ll march on ’til our paws are bust,
’cos we’ve been given orders!
So on we roll, the Long Patrol,
forget your bed an’ drinkin’ bowl,
’cos if you stop, yore in a hole,
the Sergeant’s right behind ye!
Left right, march he’ll say,
over the hills an’ faraway,
from crack o’ dawn to end o’ day,
good mateys an’ companions!”
Even the best of them were weary and pawsore when they reached the broadstream banks at late evening. Stumbling with fatigue, the regiment scrambled down the steep slopes, eager to find the best sleeping places. Camp was set up and two big fires lighted on the brigadier’s orders. Crumshaw reasoned that, if the twin blazes were sighted, the vermin might do an about-turn. This would mean the Long Patrol would be under attack—a far better situation, from his viewpoint, because the hares were armed and ready, but Redwall Abbey was not.
Tam had become separated from Doogy in the rush down the bankside. Both he and Corporal Wopscutt were about to cool their paws in the shallows when they were distracted by angry shouts. Turning, they hurried back to a crowd of hares who had gathered to witness the hubbub.
It was Doogy and Ferdimond at each other’s throats with drawn swords.
Ferdimond was yelling at the onlookers who were packed tight about them both. “Make space there, so I can swing me bally blade!”
Doogy was trying to raise his claymore, but he was so tightly hemmed in that his nose was nearly pressing against Ferdimond’s chin. “Swing yore bally blade, eh? Ah’ll swing yore bally ears from mah belt as soon as ah get room tae do it!”
Tam pushed forward into the press, but he was pulled to one side by Wonwill, who had the brigadier with him.
Crumshaw winked at Tam. “Leave this to us, MacBurl. That’s an order, stay out of it. There’s a good chap, wot!”
Wonwill bellowed in his best parade-ground manner. “Teeeeeen . . . shun! Stand fast all ranks, offisah present!”
The hares fell back and came to attention as Tam followed Crumshaw and Wonwill through to the centre. The tough sergeant immediately pulled Doogy and Ferdimond apart. “Nah then, wot’s all this ’ere, you two, eh?”
Ferdimond saluted with his long rapier. “Point of honour, Sarge, private dispute doncha know!”
Wonwill faced Doogy. “Wot’ve you got t’say for yoreself, Mister Plumm?”
The highland squirrel bared his teeth. “Ah’ve got nothin’ tae say, Sarge. Mah claymore’ll do the talkin’ for me. But that fancy talkin’ fop’ll no’ be round tae trip me up from behind again when ah’ve finished!”
The brigadier came smartly forward, his moustache bristling. “Put those blades down immediately! Rules an’ regs of our regiment don’t permit duels, private or public! Listen t’me, buckoes. If one of ye was to slay the other, I’d be forced to sentence the winner to death for killin’ a comrade. Quince, Derron, you will disarm these hotheads!”
The two captains sprang in and confiscated the blades. Crumshaw cocked a monocled eye at Wonwill. “Well, Sergeant, ’pon me scut, these two look as if they ain’t goin’ to kiss an’ make up, wot! Looks like they’ve got plenty o’ vinegar still in ’em, eh? What d’you suggest?”
Wonwill elbowed the pair further away from each other. “H’it’s my opinion they’re bound to ’ave at each other, sah. May’aps they should settle their spat like proper gentlebeasts. Could h’I suggest the noble art, sah?”
Behind his monocle, the brigadier’s eye twinkled. “Capital idea, a little exhibition, eh wot! Purely nonvindictive an’ in the true spirit o’ the sport. Carry on, Sergeant, read ’em the rules!”
Crumshaw drew a line in the bank sand with his swagger stick and stood back. Wonwill called Doogy and Ferdimond up to scratch. “Ready, young sirs? Place yore right footpaws on the line an’ face each other. Forepaws well clenched now, that’s the style! Yore goin’ t’give everybeast a boxin’ display. No bitin’, gougin’ or scratchin’. When I says fight, ye both go to it. But when I says ’alt, youse stop. H’agreed?”
Doogy and Ferdimond were eyeing each other fiercely, milling their forepaws in tight, small circles as they both snarled, “Agreed!”
Wonwill’s battered features creased into a grin. “Thankee kindly, young sirs. Ready? . . . Fight!”
Doogy’s paw shot out. Thud! He caught his opponent a punch right to the nosetip. The hare staggered slightly, then countered with a stinging blow to his adversary’s right eye. Undeterred, the small Highlander brought forth an uppercut which rattled his foe’s jaw. Then Ferdimond connected with a left that made Doogy’s ear ring. Both fighters continued at it, hammer and tongs. A lot of hares were shouting for Ferdimond, but just as many joined Tam in cheering Doogy on. There were cries of advice and encouragement from both sides as the combat raged back and forth.
“Tuck yore chin in, old lad, watch the blighter’s left!”
“Give him the jolly old one-two, that’s it!”
“Bang away at his tuck basket, that’ll wind the blighter!”
“Duck an’ weave, keep jabbin’ away with that right, mate!”
They pounded away relentlessly, footpaws never leaving the line. Doogy’s right eye was almost swollen shut, and Ferdimond’s nose looked like an overripe damson plum. The hare whipped out a pile-driving left, but the squirrel ducked it, looping a superb right to his opponent’s chin.
Whump! Ferdimond was knocked off the line, flat on his scut.
Wonwill leaped in, shouting, “H’alt!”
Leaning over Ferdimond, he put the question, “Are ye finished, Mister De Mayne?”
The hare spat out a tooth, jumping upright like a coiled spring. “Finished? I’ve only just bloomin’ started, wot!”
Wonwill watched as he came forward to paw the line again. “Righto, fight on!”
Ferdimond floored Doogy with a left cross to the head.
Another halt was called as the sergeant questioned Doogy. “Mister Plumm, ’ave ye taken h’enough, sir?”
Quick as a flash, the highland squirrel was up, grinning crookedly. “Ach, away wi’ ye, Sarge. Ah’ve got the poor lad right where ah want him tae be. Oot o’ mah way!”
They battled on, neither giving any quarter. A simultaneous barrage of punches from both sides sent the two contestants down. Staggering up and blowing for breath, they swiped out wearily at each other until they both collapsed again.
The sergeant had filled Doogy’s shield with streamwater. He winked at the brigadier, who nodded knowingly.
Splash! Wonwill drenched the pair. As the two gasping opponents sat up, the sergeant beckoned them upright to paw the line. “I ’aven’t called an ’alt yet, sirs! Ye wanted to fight, so stop malingerin’. H’up off yore hunkers an’ fight!”
Bone tired, they hauled themselves upright and fought on. Everybeast had fallen silent now. They looked on as the two exhausted battlers raised leaden paws and swiped away. Most of the punches were only hitting midair; twice, in fact, the weary rivals found themselves back to back, actually peering about for each other. Tottering around, they tripped over their own paws and finally collapsed in a heap.
Satisfied, Brigadier Crumshaw signalled Wonwill, who called a final halt. “Well, sirs, ’ave ye both ’ad enough now?”
Ferdimond had trouble lifting his head to reply. “I’ve had enough if he has.”
Doogy raised a swollen paw. “Aye, an’ ah’ve had mah fill if’n he has.”
Crumshaw stepped in, helping the sergeant to stand them upright. Joining both their paws, he concluded, “Well fought, chaps! A good scrap, I’d say, without havin’ to wipe each other out with swords, wot! Take a bow!”
Both the Long Patrol and Tam gave the fighters three rousing cheers.
The brigadier patted both their backs. “Absolutely top-hole! I hope this has solved any small differences ye may have had in the past, wot! Now, shake paws like two good eggs, then clean yoreselves up in the stream, eh?”
Doogy and Ferdimond shook paws as best they could. The young hare grinned lopsidedly. “Sorry for what I said about you, old lad. I was wrong. You, sir, are a true flippin’ warrior!”
Doogy attempted a wink, but both his eyes were swollen. “Och, yer no’ sae bad yoreself, matey. ’Twas all mah fault, ye’ll have tae excuse me for bein’ so touchy, ye ken!”
Holding each other upright, they staggered into the stream to the accompaniment of hurrahs and backslapping.
“What a go! Well fought, you two!”
“Here’s to two perilous beasts, wot!”
“Rather, that scrap’ll go down in Long Patrol annals!”
“Aye, never seen one like it in me blinkin’ life!”
Tam squatted by the fire with Wonwill. “Haha, just look at Doogy, wipin’ Ferdimond’s nose. They seem happy enough now, eh Sarge?”
The old veteran smiled. “Like the Brigadier said, better’n seein”em carved to death by swords. A good ’ealthy boxin’ match h’is just the ticket for clearin’ the air, Tam!”
Crumshaw, who had joined them, sniffed the night air with relish. “Only one thing better’n the smell of a streambank on a springtime evenin’—skilly an’ duff for supper, wot wot!”
Corporal Butty Wopscutt, assisted by the haremaids Folderon and Flummerty, were cooking away industriously. Tam took in the savoury odour from the cooking fire. “Hope it tastes as good as it smells, sah.”
Crumshaw stirred the fire with his swagger stick point. “Young Wopscutt’s the finest cook we’ve ever had, a real treasure, that ’un. An’ he ain’t put off by those pretty gels! By the way, Tam, that comrade o’ yours, Doogy wotsisname, quite a game feller, put up a superb fight. I’ve a feelin’ we’re goin’ to need chaps like him before the season’s out.”
Tam watched Doogy and Ferdimond splashing in the stream. “Aye, yore right there, sah. Goin’ up against the Gulo beast an’ his vermin, we’ll want good warriors to conquer beasts who are so savage that they eat their enemies!”
On the morning following the moles’ celebratory supper, young Burlop Cellarhog was up and about his duties before Abbot Humble awakened. Burlop busied himself in the cellars, selecting a new barrel of October Ale. Having found the one he had marked out, the young hedgehog upended it, single-pawed. He began knocking a spigot through the centre bung so the liquid could be tapped. Humble emerged from his bed in the corner, fastening the waist cord of his habit.
The stout young Cellarhog touched his headspikes apologetically. “Father Abbot! I’m sorry, did my noise wake you up?”
Humble stifled a yawn, smiling at his protégé. “Certainly not, Burlop. I merely slept a bit late after last night’s mole supper. What a pleasant evening it was, eh?”
Burlop gave the spigot a final knock and set a tankard under it. “ ’Twas most enjoyable, Father, though the moles and our creatures finished off a barrel of the October Ale. I’m just replacing it. Would you care to taste a sip?”
He stood back respectfully as Humble sniffed round the barrel staves, tapping his paw on the lid several times and then listening, as if for an answer. Burlop always deferred to his Abbot’s expertise. Humble turned the spigot tap, allowing a measure of ale to gurgle forth into the tankard. He spilt a drop on his paw and held it up to a lantern, checking on its colour and clarity. Burlop looked on anxiously as the Abbot took a sample mouthful.
The old hedgehog rolled the ale round his palate, then swallowed it slowly. Beaming happily, he smacked his lips. “Excellent! Marvellous judgement, young Burlop! Of all the October barrels within our cellars, you could not have chosen a finer one!”
Burlop bowed low, allowing his spikes to stand up and then letting them fall back flat several times—the typical hedgehog way of receiving a great compliment. “Thank you, Father. I learned all I know from you, and I’m always ready to heed your wise counsel.”
Humble gazed fondly over the top of his spectacles. “I wouldn’t trust my cellars to any hog but you, friend. Now, what was I about to do, eh?”
“Go up to breakfast perhaps?” Burlop suggested helpfully.
The Abbot scratched his chinspikes reflectively. “Hmm, yes, but there was some other business also. Ah, I remember now! I’ve got to get Brother Gordale, my cousin Jem and old Walt together. Today we begin trying to solve the rhyme puzzle. If anybeast comes looking for me, please tell them I’ll either be in the kitchens or the orchard.”
Burlop helped Humble with his overcloak. “Certainly, Father.”
Humble stared around the kitchen passage at those being served with breakfast. None of the three he wanted was there.
Sister Armel, the pretty young Infirmary Keeper, approached him cheerfully. “Good morning, Father Abbot. Are you looking for somebeast?”
Humble accepted a plate of hazelnut and honey turnovers from Friar Glisum absently. “Er, good morning, Sister. Have you seen Gordale or Jem or Walt about?”
Armel put aside her tray. “No, but I’ll soon find them for you. There’s quite a few still abed after last evening’s festivities. I’ll give them a call.”
Humble began loading up his tray. “Oh, thank you, that would be a help. Tell them I’ll have breakfast set up in the orchard. We’re supposed to be solving that rhyme puzzle today, you know.”
Sister Armel’s big brown eyes lit up. “May I help you, Father? I’m very good at puzzles.”
Humble chuckled. “Of course you can, pretty one. A young head might prove a welcome addition to us elders.”
The orchard was carpeted with pink and white petal blossoms, shed by the many apple, pear, plum, cherry, damson and almond trees.
Brother Demple, the mouse who was Abbey Gardener, put aside his trowel as he saw Humble approaching with a heavily laden tray.
“Good morning, Abbot. Doesn’t our orchard look pretty today? Here, let me help you with that tray.”
Humble willingly allowed the sturdy mouse to assist him. “Thank you, Brother Demple. My word, I didn’t realise one tray could be so heavy. There’s breakfast for three there.”
Demple took up the tray. “Thank goodness for that. At first I thought it was all for you, Father!”
He guided Humble to a sunny corner where he had set up a potting bench. “Friends for breakfast, eh? What’s the occasion?”
Humble sat on the bench alongside the tray. “We’ve arranged to try and solve a puzzle.”
Demple rubbed his paws together eagerly. “I love a good puzzle. D’you need any help?”
The Abbot smiled, eager to accept such a ready offer. “By all means, be my guest—the more the merrier. Ah, here they come now.”
Gordale arrived with Walt and Jem. Slightly behind them came Armel, with Skipper’s niece Brookflow. The fine, strong ottermaid had brought along an extra tray piled high with more food. Brookflow, or Brooky as she was known to all, was a jolly creature, possessed of an infectious laugh. Carrying the heavy tray on one paw, she waved with the other.
“Yoohooeeee! I heard there was a riddle t’be worked out, so I worked myself in. Is it alright if I join these other duffers, Father? Hahahaha!”
Humble raised his paws in mock despair. “Come on, you beauty, come one come all! Soon we’ll have everybeast in the Abbey here!”
Breakfast was shared out, as there was plenty for everyone. In the middle of it, Humble smote his forehead and groaned. “Sister Screeve has the written copy, and I forgot to invite her along. What was I thinking of?”
Yet even as he spoke, Screeve entered the orchard waving a parchment, the one she had recorded the rhyme on. “Friar Glisum told me you’d be here, Father. Hope you’ve not started without me!”
Brooky giggled into a scone she was demolishing. “Teeheehee! How would we manage that? I think old Screeve’s gone off her rocker. Teeheeheehee!”
Jem looked over the rim of an oatmeal bowl at Brooky. “You could do yoreself a nastiness, gigglin’ an’ vittlin’ like that, marm!”
Breakfast was taken in leisurely fashion, chatting, laughing and gossiping. Wandering Walt tapped his digging claws on the bench impatiently. “Yurr, b’aint us’n’s apposed t’be solven ee riggle t’day?”
Sister Screeve spread her parchment upon the ground. “Thank you kindly, sir. If Miss Brookflow can stop her merriment for just a moment, I’ll read the rhyme. Are you finished, miss?”
The jolly ottermaid stifled her mouth with both paws. “Whoohoohoo . . . Oops! Sorry, Sister, just once more. Whoohoohaha! There, that’s better. Right, let’s get on with unpuzzling the riddle, or unrizzling the puddle. Whoohaha. . . .”
Brooky looked about at the stern faces. “Sorry.”
Screeve took up where she had left off. “As I said, I’ll read the poem, er rhyme. Right!
Where the sun falls from the sky,
and dances at a pebble’s drop,
where little leaves slay big leaves,
where wood meets earth I stop.
Safe from the savage son of Dramz,
here the secret lies alone,
the symbol of all power, the mighty Walking Stone!”
Brother Gordale scratched behind his ear. “Well, where do we start with all that jumble?”
“At the beginning, I suppose. Hahahaha. . . .” Humble silenced Brooky with a stern glance over his glasses.
Then, suddenly, he mellowed. “An excellent idea. Very logical, too, miss. Where the sun falls from the sky. Anybeast got an idea where that may be?”
Walt answered. “Hurr that bee’s in ee west, whurr ee sun be a-setten every h’evenin’, zurr.”
Demple swept the horizon westward. “That’s a massive area. Any way we could narrow it down?”
Whilst they sat thinking about this, Gordale quoted the second line. “And dances at a pebble’s drop.”
Armel fidgeted with her apron strings. “Maybe it carries on to link up. What’s the next line?”
Sister Screeve supplied it in her precise tones. “Where little leaves slay big leaves. Dearie me, I’m really puzzled now!”
Brooky interrupted her. “Well, if the entire thing is a puzzle, yore supposed to be puzzled—that’s why puzzlers write ’em. Haha, we’re looking for a Walking Stone, and nobeast’s ever seen one. I wouldn’t recognise a Walking Stone if it fell out of a tree and hit me over the head. Oh, hahahahoohoo!”
Screeve wagged her paw severely. “Really, Brookflow, you aren’t helping the situation by sitting there laughing!”
Armel, very fond of her ottermaid friend, spoke up in her defence. “Don’t be too hard on Brooky, Sister. She has a point, you know.”
Gordale shrugged. “Right then, Sister Armel. Perhaps you’d like to tell us—just what is her point, eh?”
Armel’s pretty face creased in a frown of concentration. “Er, we, hmm, er . . . Maybe if Walt and Jem described the area where they found the dying beast, we might gain a clue from it.”
Humble agreed. “Sounds reasonable to me. This Askor, the beast who died, it’s likely he may have concealed the Walking Stone not far from where the tree fell on him. Jem, Walt, could you recall anything special about the place?”
Wandering Walt wrinkled his nose. “Nay, zurr, it bee’d loike many bits o’ furrest we’m parssed throo t’gether. B’aint that so, Jem?”
The old hedgehog shook his grizzled spikes. “Gettin’ old ain’t no fun. I fergits a lot o’ things now’days. It were someplace in sou’west Mossflower Woodlands, I’m sure o’ that. Aye, an’ there was a big ole rotten sycamore a-layin’ there, that was the one wot fell on Askor. More’n that I’m a-feared I can’t say, friends.”
Sister Screeve pushed the written rhyme under Jem’s snout. “Mayhap this’ll jog your mind. Try to recall if you noticed any of these things—a place where the sun falls from the sky, where it dances at a pebble’s drop, where little leaves slay big leaves. . . .”
Brother Demple suddenly exclaimed, “That’s it . . . ivy!”
Jem stared at him curiously. “What’s that supposed t’mean, ivy?”
Demple’s explanation shed the first tiny ray of hope on the riddle. “Plants and growing things are both my hobby and my life as a gardener. So I ignored the rest of the puzzle and concentrated on the one line, ‘Where little leaves slay big leaves.’ Father, do you remember that old willow tree, down by our Abbey pond, on the south side? The tree I had to chop down about ten seasons back? It was an ancient, weak old thing, with ivy growing all over it—right from the ground, around the trunk, through the branches, until the whole willow tree was covered thickly in ivy vines and creepers. Not a single leaf could grow there as a result of that ivy. It had been strangled.”
Humble remembered. “Ah yes, poor thing. Nobeast likes to see a tree felled, but it was becoming a danger, especially to our Dibbuns. I recall I took some of the branches to use as caulking for small casks. There was a lot of ivy, though.”
Demple smiled triumphantly. “You see, a clear case of little leaves slaying big leaves. Jem, can you or Walt recall seeing such a tree near the scene, one all choked by ivy?”
Hitheryon Jem pondered a moment, then laughed aloud. “Hohoho! The wasp, Walt, remember the wasp?”
The old mole rubbed his stubby tail ruefully. “Bo urr, oi b’aint likely to furget ee likkle villyun!”
Jem warmed to an account of the incident. “ ’Twas the day we found Askor, but earlier on. We’d just sat down to take a bite o’ brekkist. I sat on the cart shaft, but ole Walt, he sat down with his back agin a tree. Aye, ’twas a big sycamore, there’s quite a few in that neck o’ the woods. But this’n ’ad been gripped by the ivy, just as you described, Brother Demple. From root to crown that tree was wrapped thick in the stuff. Walt should’ve knowed better, ’cos ’tis a common fact that wasps are very partial to ivy, somethin’ in the scent of the leaves I’ve been told. Well, he’d no sooner sat down when out buzzes a wasp an’ stings pore ole Walt right on the tail!”
Brooky could not resist breaking in. “That’s a story with a sting in the tail! Oh heeheehee!”
Walt glared at the jovial ottermaid. “Et wurn’t funny, marm. Waspers are vurry ’urtful beasts. Oi ’ad to bathe moi tail in ee pond an’ rub et wi’ dockleaves!”
Gordale spoke. “You mean there was a pond close by?”
Jem’s memory began coming back. “Not a pond—it were more of a lake, bigger’n yore Abbey pond, a peaceful stretch o’ water. We filled our canteens there.”
Sister Armel had enjoyed her breakfast in the orchard. She sat back in a sun-dappled corner, surrounded by friends, listening to Jem and the others discussing the problem. Though she had risen bright and alert that morning, her eyelids began to droop. A feeling of warm tranquility enveloped her, the voices receding into a soothing hum. A different voice was calling to her, echoing along the corridors of her mind, gentle but firm.
“Armel, listen to me. Do you know who I am?”
A golden haze stole into her imagination. Through it drifted a figure she recognised immediately. “I know you, sir. You are Martin the Warrior!”
The warrior’s face was strong and kind as he smiled. “And I know you, Sister Armel. That is why I choose you. Hear me now.
My sword must be carried by maidens two:
one who sees laughter in all, and you.
Bear it southwest through Mossflower Wood,
to he who pursues the vermin Lord.
The Borderer who is a force for good,
that warrior who sold and lost his sword.”
The image of Martin began to fade, but Armel heard his parting words quite clearly.
“Wake now, Armel. Tell them of the Abbey pond.”
Though she was not aware of it, her meeting with the warrior had lasted a mere moment. Jem was still speaking of the lake he had recalled.
Armel came wide awake at the sound of her own voice speaking. “ ‘Where the sun falls from the sky, and dances at a pebble’s drop.’ That’s your lake, Jem.”
The wandering hedgehog stared at her curiously. “How d’ye know that, Sister?”
Armel had forgotten Martin’s visit, but she replied to Jem’s question instantly. “Oh, that’s simple, really. When I was only a Dibbun, I often sat by the Abbey pond on summer afternoons. I could see the image of the sun on the water—it looked like gold. Many’s the time Brooky and I threw pebbles at the reflection to see if we could hit it. The ripples caused by our pebbles made the sun on the water dance.”
Brooky broke out into laughter again. “That’s right! Oh, you are an old cleverclogs, Armel. No wonder they made you Infirmary Sister. But I was the best pebble chucker—I hit the sun more times than you did. They should’ve made me Abbey Pebble Chucker. Hahahahaha!”
She looked around at the stern faces, and the laughter faded on her lips. “Oh, you lot are about as funny as a boiled frog!”
The Abbot polished his spectacles studiously to avoid smiling at the irrepressible ottermaid. “Well, friends, the pieces of our puzzle are beginning to fall into place. In fact, I’ve just solved a line myself!”
Sister Screeve glanced up from her writing. “Pray tell, Father.”
Humble repeated the lines. “ ‘Where wood meets earth I stop, safe from the savage son of Dramz.’ Where does wood meet earth naturally? At the base of a tree, where else!”
Sister Screeve scanned her notes. “Right! So what have we got so far? We’re looking for a sycamore tree overgrown by ivy, not far from a lake. This Walking Stone, whatever it is, has been buried at its base, safe from the savage son of Dramz, whoever he may be!”
Jem rose stiffly. “If I remember rightly, Dramz is the father of Askor, the one who was slain by his brother, Gulo the Savage. Dramz was the owner o’ the Stone, but when he died, Askor took it an’ ran. When we found Askor, he said that Gulo was chasin”im t’get ’old of the Stone. But that was last winter, an’ we ain’t heard o’ Gulo ever since. I wonder why? Ooh, my ole back’s playin’ me up. If’n you’ll excuse me, Cousin, I think I’ll take a warm bath an’ have a nice liddle liedown on a soft Abbey bed. Too many seasons sleepin’ on rocks out in the weather, that’s my trouble.”
Abbot Humble stood up and took Jem’s paw. “I’ll walk with you as far as the Abbey. Mayhaps the rest of us might meet after supper this evening. We can talk further then. Come on, Jem, we’re growing old together.”
The meeting broke up. Everybeast went off about their chores, which were many and varied in a place the size of Redwall Abbey. Old Walt had a split in his footpaw, which he, like Jem, attributed to long seasons of outdoor wandering. Armel asked him up to her Infirmary, where she kept some herbal salve to treat minor injuries. Brooky strolled up to the Infirmary with Armel, whilst Walt, who did not hold with sickbays and treatments, sat in the orchard, screwing up his courage to pay a visit.
As the young squirrel and her ottermaid friend walked through Great Hall toward the stairs, Sister Armel had the strangest feeling. She turned in the direction of the tapestry, and there, gazing straight at her, was Martin the Warrior’s likeness. Then the mission he had entrusted to her suddenly dawned upon Armel. She gripped her friend’s paw.
“Brooky, come with me. We’ve got to talk with Abbot Humble, straightaway!”
Yoofus Lightpaw was a water vole. Chubby-faced and snub-nosed, with long, glossy, chocolate brown fur, he was also a dyed-in-the-wool, incorrigible thief. Stealing was a compulsion with Yoofus, and he was very good at it. Although by nature he was an excellent little fellow—unfailingly kind, thoughtful and so generous that he would share his last crust with any creature in need—this did not alter the fact that Yoofus Lightpaw was the most expert thief in all Mossflower Woodlands. His wife—a dear, plump, homely creature named Didjety—was forever upbraiding him for his thieving ways, though secretly she was rather proud of her husband’s extraordinary skills.
“Yoofus Lightpaw, ye dreadful ould beast,” she would say, “sure you’d rob the very stars from out the sky if they weren’t nailed up there an’ ye could reach them!”
Yoofus always took this as a compliment. Hugging and kissing her fondly for making such remarks, he’d often reply, “Arrah, Didjety me darlin’, us Lightpaws was ever the same. As me ould granny used t’say while she robbed the supper off of the table, ‘Don’t fuss yoreself, me pretty sugarplum pie, an’ I’ll go out an’ borrow somethin’ grand for ye!’ ”
Yoofus and Didjety lived in a neat bank burrow by a lake, the very one where Wandering Walt had cooled his wasp-stung tail. Their home boasted an exceedingly well-disguised entrance, which would hardly merit a second glance from the outside. Inside, however, was a veritable treasure cave. From wall to wall, across the ceiling and over the floors, it was draped, hung and adorned with the trophies of the water vole’s highly questionable enterprises. There were pictures, musical instruments, plates, bowls, jugs and jewellery. Everything—from carved tailrings to woven paw bracelets, necklets, brooches and headbands—shone and glimmered in the rainbow hue of many patterned lanterns. All in all it was a wondrous dwelling to behold.
Yoofus roamed far and wide in search of plunder. He was well versed in woodland lore and knew the movements of most creatures throughout the green fastness of copses, glades and ancient tree groves of Mossflower.
It was a still, sunny noontide when the water vole, scouting the southwest woods, spotted a magpie nest. Yoofus liked nothing better than thieving from a thief; magpies were known to steal bright objects to decorate their nests. He hid behind the trunk of an elm and settled down to scrutinise the bird’s abode.
After a short while, Yoofus was rewarded by the flash of black and white plumage as a large, handsome magpie flew out from the nest. He watched it winging its way between the trees gracefully, its wedge-shaped tail and fanlike wings weaving amid the foliage as it headed toward the southwest fringes.
Unlooping a coil of tough climbing rope from his middle, Yoofus murmured, “An’ a fond good-bye to ye, sir. Don’t hurry back now!”
Robbing a magpie nest could be a dangerous task. Big and strong, these birds were fierce predators and totally ruthless with anybeast trespassing in their nests.
The magpie was almost out of sight when an arrow zipped upward, transfixing it. The bird fell to earth in an ungainly jumble of feathers, letting out a single harsh squawk. Overcome with curiosity, Yoofus rewound the rope about his waist and ran in the direction where the magpie had fallen. Acutely aware that danger was about, the volethief went cautiously. He was almost at the spot when he noted movement in a fern bed. Yoofus dropped behind a shrub, his paw going to the small dagger in his belt. Apart from a stonesling, this was the only armament he carried.
Four ermine, their fur patching from white to light tan with the lateness of the season, emerged from the grove of tall ferns. Each was armed with a short, curved bow and quiver of arrows. One of them retrieved the magpie’s limp body, remarking to another, “That leaves only thee to get a bird, Grik. So far we have taken a woodpigeon, a starling and this magpie twixt us three. Woe betide thee if Lord Gulo sees thee returning empty pawed!”
Toting their bag of dead birds, the three ermine moved off, leaving the unfortunate Grik to hunt alone. Yoofus shadowed the ermine on his quest for prey. Grik got lucky suddenly. Ignorant of the ermine’s presence close by, a song thrush trilled out its rapture from the branches of a witch hazel. Grik, who was not a proficient archer, shot the bird by pure fluke, slaying it with his first arrow. Flinging the thrush across his shoulder, the ermine set off back to camp, with Yoofus Lightpaw hot on his unsuspecting heels.
Shortly thereafter, the water vole was perched in a huge, high barberry shrub, studying the vermin camp. Other creatures may have been fearful at the sight of a hundred assorted ermine and white foxes, but not Yoofus. He saw the warriors of Gulo as a source of valuable loot. Many of them wore bracelets, pawrings and necklets of amber, gaudy shells and coral. There was also a goodly selection of weapons in evidence. Yoofus determined to bring his wife Didjety a few trinkets, bracelets and such. For himself, it was mainly a big blade he coveted, a sword. Never having owned one, the vole dreamed of roaming the woodlands, sporting a decent blade at his side.
Yoofus settled down to await the coming of darkness. When the vermin were asleep, and the camp quiet, he would go to work. The thief rubbed his paws in anticipation.
Gulo the Savage gnawed on a partly cooked dove. Close by, tied with a rope running from their necks to a stake, were the two remaining River Rats, Runneye and Bluesnout. Cringing on the ground, the pair scrabbled, fighting each other for the scraps tossed to them by the wolverine.
He eyed them disdainfully. “So then, scum, how far off lies the Redwall place?”
Runneye had to think for a moment. “On’y be notfar now, Lord—aye, notfar I t’ink.”
The wolverine frightened them badly as he leaned forward, baring his fangs, his open mouth half-filled with meat. “Tell me again, what manner of beasts be those within its walls? How many strong are they, eh?”
Bluesnout whimpered. “Jus’ woodlan’ beasters, Lord, not warriors—jus’ mouses, moles, ’edgepigs, an’ not many. Dey be peacelike, never fight you, Lord!”
Gulo leaned back on the drum where he was seated, fondling its decorated rim. He chuckled wickedly. “Woodland creatures, not many in number an’ peaceable. Methinks I like the sound of it. What say ye, Shard?”
The white fox captain reserved his judgement. “ ’Tis fortunate for us, but only if the rats speak truly, Lord.”
The savage’s eyes narrowed menacingly. “Wisely spoken, Shard. I have it in mind that thou shalt take a score and scout out the Redwall place in secret. Only then shall we know the real truth.”
He leered cruelly at his two rat captives. “If ye have lied to Gulo, I have a special punishment reserved for ye—one that will last many days and nights!”
Runneye and Bluesnout wept openly, pleading with Gulo.
“No lie, no lies, us speaks true, Lord!”
“Us tellya der troo’t, pleeze don’t ’urt us, Lord!”
Gulo’s predatory eyes glittered as he stroked his captives’ heads. “Hush now, cease thy whining. Live on in misery until my Captain returns. Then we will see how to treat thee. Shard, go swiftly. We will follow on behind and await thy report. Travel by night an’ day.”
The captain bowed. “Thy wish is my command, O Mighty One!”
Peering steadfastly between the thorns and the yellow blossom clusters of the barberry, Yoofus saw night descend. He had seen a creature like Gulo before—in fact, he had watched it die beneath a fallen sycamore trunk. The water vole had witnessed Wandering Walt and Hitheryon Jem covering Askor.
Yoofus had not been close enough to hear what went on between Gulo, Shard and the two rats. It did not concern him unduly; he was a thief, not a spy. What otherbeasts did was no concern of his. He was interested only in himself and his wife.
Campfires burned low, and the vermin ceased eating and quarrelling. Sentries were posted at four corners of the encampment. The volethief marked their positions to ensure that the guards would be no hindrance to him. When the last of Gulo’s creatures was huddled by the fires, slumbering soundly, Yoofus left the barberry bush and drifted like a wraith into the camp. Silent as a moonshadow, he slid past two heavy-lidded foxes propped up against the bole of an elm. He heard the captive rats whimpering softly, forced to sleep sitting upright, their necks bound tight against the stake. Yoofus allowed himself a moment’s satisfaction. He hated River Rats, all of whom he considered bullies and murderers.
Scanning the slumbering group for the best targets, the volethief chose four ermine who were sprawled around a small heap of glowing embers. A cauldron rested on the remains of the fire. Yoofus took a quick peep at its contents—half-stewed birds, still with their feathers on. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. What a pack of primitive beasts these vermin were!
First he lifted a tailband of blue-coloured cord, with coral beads strung on it, from an ermine. What sort of poor creature had this once belonged to? Moving on to the next vermin, he artfully unbuckled a belt of eelskin studded with amber drops. Didjety would be pleased with that! The next sleeper yielded a silver ring with a purple mussel pearl set on its shank. Very nice finding scum who had taste in other places besides their mouths, he told himself. Then he espied the banner! A white fox, sleeping apart from the rest, had it spread over him like a sheet.
Yoofus quivered with delight. What a find! Didjety would have many uses for such a fine object, perhaps as a wall curtain, a bedquilt or maybe a cloth to grace their dining table. The banner was attached by its four corners to a pair of spearpoles. The volethief drew his little knife and snipped through the hanging cords. When next he tickled the fox’s nose lightly, the creature released the banner and snuffled, scratching the offending itch. Yoofus took the opportunity to remove the flag, slowly and gracefully. Then things went awry. The fox sneezed. Though still half asleep, it sat up blinking at him, muttering, “What be ye doing with yon fla . . .”
That was the furthest the vermin got. With eye-blurring speed, Yoofus seized a flagpole and whacked him squarely between the ears. The fox sat bolt upright for a moment, staring at him. Then the whites of its eyes showed, and it fell back, poleaxed. With his paws stinging from the impact, Yoofus placed the cracked pole aside carefully.
“Ah well, me ould foxie, ye’ll sleep tight now, I’m thinkin’. Sure I’m sorry, but ’twas all I could do, y’see. Otherwise ye’d have wakened every rascal in the camp.”
The thief was bundling the banner up when he spotted the fox’s sword, thrust through the belt at its side. Yoofus raised his eyes joyfully to the sky. “Dame Fortune, me ould tatercake, may the sun always shine on ye. By all that’s good’n’grand, a sword of me very own!”
Taking the fox’s belt, he strapped it on with the sword hanging from it and struck what he fancied was a gallant stance. “Ah, well ain’t I the fine picture of a villainous vole!”
The sentries were now slumped against the elm, snoring industriously. Yoofus tippawed past them, saluting cheerfully. Away he went, with the swordpoint scraping draped down over his back. Out on the trail once more, and clear of the camp, the irrepressible volethief broke into song.
“O, ’tis my belief that t’be a thief,
is a terrible thing t’be.
I tell ye straight that a thief I’d hate,
if he stole anythin’ from me!
Come derry fol day folero,
an’ chase me around the tree!
I’m bound to thieve though I never grieve,
when I lay me down to rest.
’Cos I love the job an’ I like to rob,
’tis the trade that I knows best!
Come derry fol day folero,
I’ll bet ye don’t catch me!
I’ve tried t’be good for I knows I should,
but ’tis hard for me ye see.
I’m more than willin’ t’be a villain,
an’ I can’t help bein’ me!
O come derry fol day foloooooooo,
now ’tis my turn to chase you!”
The following morn dawned warm but grey and misty, shrouded in fine drizzle. Captain Urfig, the white fox whom Yoofus had felled on the previous night, was wakened by an agonising pain in his head. He touched the lump between his ears, groaning as fresh pangs lanced through his skull. Then the enormity of what had happened hit him like a thunderbolt. Images of the small, dark-furred creature, standing over him and swinging forcefully at his head with the flagpole, flashed before him. Then a brilliant starburst, followed by enveloping blackness, was all he could remember. Urfig struggled upright. His paw instinctively reached for his sword, but it was gone! Something between a whine and a sob escaped the fox’s lips as he caught sight of the two poles and the severed cords on each side of him. The banner, too, was gone!
Gulo the Savage had entrusted him, as a high-ranking captain, with the flag. Urfig knew that his life was at an end. The wolverine would surely slay him for the loss of his standard—unless . . . ? Unless Urfig could think of an excuse that would satisfy his ruthless master. He tried to ignore his injured head, frantically seeking an alibi. There was no way that Gulo would accept the true explanation: his flag taken by some little woodlander? Never! Urfig wandered about distractedly until his eyes lit on the tracks Yoofus had left—scrapemarks where the swordpoint had dragged behind the vole and a blurring where the flag tassels had swept along with it. Urfig suddenly saw a ruse that might spare his life. It was a desperate chance, a wild gamble, but it had to be taken swiftly.
Gulo had becomed accustomed to the fair weather of this new land, but he was not a lover of rain, or even drizzle. On his orders, his guards had erected a canvas over a low tree limb. There he sat, gazing sourly into a smoky fire, awaiting the arrival of better conditions.
Nobeast was more surprised than the wolverine when Urfig came hurriedly staggering out of the mist. Scattering the fire, he lurched into the awning, knocking the canvas loose.
Collapsing in a heap, the captain gasped hoarsely, “Askor, it was thy brother Askor, Lord!”
Gulo sprang up. Grabbing the captain, he pulled him from the wreckage and hauled him upright. “My brother—where, when? Speak, fool!”
Urfig did not have to put on an act. Genuinely terrified, he babbled out a reply. “I was almost killed, Lord, knocked senseless. I have just awakened and come here, straight to thee! During the night, Sire, thy brother Askor came. He stole my sword and thy banner! He knocked me over the head with a pole, sire. . . .”
Gulo shook the fox like a rag, covering his face in spittle as he bellowed, “Was it really Askor? Which way did he go?”
Urfig pointed a trembling paw in the direction taken by Yoofus. “Truly, ’twas thy brother, Lord. Methinks he went that way, north.”
Dragging the captain along by his ears, Gulo yelled out orders. “Guards! Guards! To the north! Find me a trail!”
Yanking Urfig close, he brought him eye to eye. “The Walking Stone, did he have the Walking Stone?”
The hapless captain, up on tippaws, felt as though his ears were being pulled out by the roots. “Mighty One, I did not see, it happened so swiftly!”
The ermine Garfid, who was Gulo’s best tracker, was down on all fours, examining the ground. “Over here, Sire. I see marks!”
Gulo was quivering all over as he knelt beside the tracker. “What do ye see? Tell me, are they those of that brother of mine?”
Garfid glanced over the wolverine’s shoulder and caught the nod from Urfig’s frightened face. The tracker was no fool; he took the wise course, knowing death could be the result of an unfavourable answer to his ruthless chieftain. “Only mighty beasts such as thee can leave a deep clawmark, Lord. The blurring of the edges means that the creature had long-haired paws like thine. The drizzling rain has not helped this trail, but it looks very like thy brother’s marks, Sire.”
Gulo the Savage threw back his head, letting out a great screeching howl of triumph. “Yaaaaheeeeegh! I knew it, ’tis Askor! We go north, now. Now!”