- Brian Jacques
At the horde of Trager the Beast that night, a quiet celebration was going on. A small group of vermin sat around a small fire in TragerÕs deserted tent.
“Tell us ‘ow it ‘appened again, Skullbonnz!”
A weasel of average size winked her deep blue eyes.
“I’ve told ye before, Rawbone. I came in here an’ found Trager just lyinÕ there, all cut up and practically unrecognizeable.”
“Arr, an’ ‘ow d’ye know ’twas Trager, an’ not jus’ some other wolf body that was used?” asked the fox Rawbone, spitting roughly in the fire and wiping a grubby paw across his lips.
The vermin leaned closer to Skullbonnz. They had always regarded her as a natural leader, of good fighting stock and cunning, though she had amounted to nothing more than a captain in TragerÕs horde. The truth was that Trager had valued her, but didnÕt want her to get her hopes of taking over the horde up, so he had stuck her down in the lowest captain spot. Skullbonnz was originally a corsair cap’n, and a good one to boot, so the title fit her well and she was contented. But, over many years she had carefully planned to take over Trager’s horde, and now the time had come for her. She was thoroughly elated with this recent turn of events.
“Stabgut did his work well,” she said finally, “On TragerÕs body there was a crumpled up note. I opened it and it said, in the ferret’s own handwriting, ‘The work is done, Warlady Skullbonnz.’”
The vermin laughed madly. A rat named Vildur cackled, “An’ where’s ‘Is Lordship’s body now?”
Skullbonnz stood up and stared out the tent, relating a small vermin proverb:
“Deep in the ground where worms will go,
‘Twas there I laid ‘im low.
How d’you know that ‘e’s down there?
‘E won’t never come up for air!”
“Ahahahaharr!” Rawbone laughed callously, pouring grog in beakers and passing them around. “Well said, Skully. Well mates, itÕs to our new horde leader, Skullbonnz!”
As the vermin raised their beakers happily, Skullbonnz chipped in quietly, “And to my new horde captains.”
The vermin drank deep, as SkullbonnzÕs merry blue eyes twinkled untruthfully.
The next morning the horde was called to order by Skullbonnz. They blinked in the morning sunlight, wondering why it was the weasel captain to be addressing them and not Trager.
“You vermin, you rakings and scrapings of the earth!” called Skullbonnz as the last straggler came out to join the ranks. The weasel looked quite pretty for a vermin, despite various scars that ran the length of her body–a tribute to her seagoing experiences–as she was dressed in a blue tunic and fine scarlet cloak that fluttered fluidly in the breeze behind her.
There were many angry growls at this. One of the highest captains, a strong-limbed fox named Kwayl, drew his sword and stood forward. “What is the meaning of this, captain? You have no right to assemble this horde together. Trager will have you slain for this mutiny!”
Skullbonnz stared at the fox, a knowing smile spreading across her lips. “Funny you should mention Trager.”
Kwayl sneered contemptuously. “Aye, I did mention Trager, an’ he’ll kill you if you donÕt stop this nonsense and get back to your tent!”
“Oh, I’m indeed sure that he would, my dear Kwayl,” said Skullbonnz gloatingly. “But you see, Trager is dead.”
A flood of disbelief and shock rippled through the horde, as did many excited murmers.
Kwayl pointed his sword at the weasel as the noise died. “YouÕre lying! You’ll pay doubly for that, you mutinous wretch!”
“If you say that I am lying, come and prove it!” Skullbonnz challenged. She reached down to her green silk sash, through which a glittering scimitar was thrust. The blade was strong and dangerously sharp, the handle bound with hard leather and studded with shining red rubies.
The army held its collective breath as fox and weasel faced each other. If what Skullbonnz had said was true, this fight would determine leadership.
Both beasts circled slowly, looking for an opening, blades flickering threateningly. Kwayl suddenly bellowed and went for a direct thrust. Skullbonnz dodged and struck downwards. The fox twisted his body sideways, bringing up his blade to block the swing. Both beasts grunted and strained on their locked swordblades, both being evenly matched in strength and skill. But Skullbonnz was quicker, far quicker. With lightning speed she pulled her sword away and carried on swinging the scimitar around in an arc, catching Kwayl an unlucky one on the side. The fox immediately retorted in fury, cutting her arm with his claws. Skullbonnz sliced expertly with her scimitar, up and under.
There was a piercing ring of metal striking metal, and the sword left Kwayl’s claws. Before the fox captain had time to think, his opponent had kicked him flat. Skullbonnz raised her scimitar high above her head. “You always were a goody-two-shoes, Kwayl. How IÕve longed for this moment.”
The blade flashed once in the sunlight.
A horrified silence fell over the horde. Nobeast had been able to fight that well, except Trager.
Skullbonnz lifted her dripping swordblade and yelled, “Well, anybeast else want to try me on for size, or am I your leader? Yell for me, yell if I am! Call my name!”
Spearbutts and paws stamped the ground, as a wild yell filled the air. “Skullbonnz! Skullbonnz! Warlady Skullboooonnnz!”
Skullbonnz muttered out the side of her mouth to Rawbone, “Slay all the original captains. They cannot be trusted. Then line the horde up to attack Redwall. Do this, and you are my new second-in-command.”
Trembling slightly, Rawbone nodded imperiously and scurried off.
Trager was trotting through the silent woodlands when the faint echoes of the vermin yelling reached his ears. That would be Skullbonnz, he thought to himself, thinking she was smarter than he. Ha! HeÕd known about her plot to use Stabgut to kill him. It was quite useful that he had a few other wolves in his horde. Their bodies could easily be accepted as his own, as long as he cut them up enough.
The wolf stared down at the Sword of Martin, buckled at his side. What a glorious weapon it was, the best ever. And now it was his! Those stupid abbeybeasts couldnÕt catch him, and Trager was firmly convinced: nobeast could outsmart him. Nobeast!
“Daniel mate, Erin’s dead. You canÕt bring him back.”
It was evening of the same day Trager faked his death. Daniel sat with his back to the camp that had been set up, head in his paws. The others tried to keep themselves busy; Scamper and Gunthre had just returned from burying the SwordmakerÕs body and had gone over to console Daniel.
The young mouse didnÕt want to be seen crying, but the images of the arrow thudding into his friend Erin’s chest kept replaying in his mind. Hot tears poured down his face for the friend he had lost, and a heavy ache was bursting in his chest.
“He was my friend, Scamper…I…” Daniel choked on the words.
Scamper sniffed. “I know how you feel, mate, but we can’t dwell on this. We have a wolf to catch. And kill.”
In the morning they were woken up by Gonjur shouting, “I say, old beans! I was just out running, an’ I foun’ that hedgehog, Dew-wotsit! She’s in trouble, Trager’s got her!”
Daniel came awake instantly. “Where? Was he alone?”
Gonjur thought a moment. “No. There were two beasts with ‘im. A ferret and a rat. They seemed to be old friends of Trager. The ferret carried a bow; I think ’twas ‘im that killed our Swordmaker.” The hare sniffed and wiped a paw across his eyes.
Daniel grabbed Erin’s old knapsack and pulled forth a long rapier. He stood up, looking more infuriated than a Bloodwrath-filled badger. “I’ll kill him.”
Alfred ran to his friend’s side, crying, “Daniel, youÕll be killed!”
Daniel didnÕt listen. “I’ll kill him! And if any of you would like to help me, follow along. I won’t wait for you!”
The mouse crashed off heedlessly through the undergrowth, towards the distant sounds of Dewblossom yelling.