Chapter 23

by Slagar the Cruel

Trager the Beast sat comfortably around a fire he had made at the east border of the Mossflower Woods, keeping the sword at his side and silently repasting as his two companions laughed at the ill fortune of their former messmates. They believed that they were Trager’s most favored of warriors, and that he considered them his equals – his friends. Only in their first assumption were they correct, as Trager couldn’t care less about them. He had only let them follow to watch his back. But, the only warrior amongst the Abbeybeasts was the sword maker,Trager thought, so the only question now is how to rid myself of these… vermin.

“Aye, mate,” laughed the ferret, Buckler, “and Skullbonz thinks she’s done our friend Trager ‘ere in! Harr harr! She was always a fool, wasn’t she, Krazt?”

Krazt the rat shook with mirth. “Yeh, and I’ll bet yeh every dubloon I’ve ever pilferer that the first thing she’ll do is go after that red Abbey! I tell ya, Buckler me lad, she set ‘erself up for this’un.”

Then, Krazt turned to Trager. “But there’s one thing I don’t get, Trager. What’s all this business wi’ the Sword, anyways? Why did yeh wan’ it so bad?”

“All shall be revealed in due time, my friend,” Trager replied. Then, Trager froze. His ears twitched and he gripped the handle of the sword of Martin.

“Whassa matter, Tra-” Buckler began, but he was cut off by the sudden warcry of Daniel, who burst into the clearing.

“REDWAAAAAAAALL!” Daniel cried, holding the rapier high. Taken off guard, Buckler was pierced through the back by Daniel’s blade. He slumped over, dead, as Daniel pulled the blade right out. Krazt cried out in alarm and pulled out his scabbard. He turned to Trager, expecting to see him ready to cleave Daniel in two, but Trager was nowhere in sight. As he looked this way and that for a trace of the wolf, Daniel sliced into his chest, ending the rat’s life.

Daniel halted, breathing deeply, covered with blood. Trager had evaded him yet again. “I have avenged the death of my friend Erin,” he seethed, “but it is you, wolf, that I wish to slay above all, because it was your will that brought Erin to the Dark Forest! And, furthermore, you hold the sword which I seek to return! Come back here and fight! Come back, you coward!” He wailed in frustration and fell to his knees.

It didn’t take long for Daniel’s companions to catch up to him. Gunthre was the first to find Daniel, silently weeping, covered in blood and in the midst of two vermin corpses. Gunthre gasped. “Daniel… Daniel, what have you done?” the squirrel whispered.

Gonjur and Scamper bounded into the clearing next, followed by Alfred. Each of them froze with horror at the sight of their friend, surrounded by death and blood. It was just too much for Alfred to bear. “Daniel, how could you?” Alfred cried, shaking his head and stepping backwards. “We’re not warriors, not soldiers, not murderers! We’re children! Don’t you understand anything that Redwall has taught us?!”

Daniel stood up. “We have been given the duty of warriors, Alfred,” he replied. “It’s about time we started acting like warriors. I have avenged the death of our friend Erin, but Trager is still about. I have reason to believe that he’s escaped to the Plains of Erian. Well then, let’s be off.” With that, Daniel began marching through the few trees seperating him and the Plains of Erian, but a question from Scamper halted him.

“Daniel… mate… what happened t’ Dewblossom?”

Daniel’s lip trembled as he gestured towards the firewood and remnants of the roasted flesh that Trager, Buckler, and Krazt had been eating.

“No… n-not that…” Scamper whispered

Daniel stood tall and continued into the Plains. “The deaths of Erin and Dewblossom shall not go unpunished. Follow me!”

The Plains of Erian contrasted sharply to the rich forest of Mossflower. Very few plants seemed to grow there and there was not a tree in sight. Instead, there was simply bare earth, with boulders and the occasional small plant dotting the landscape. It seemed as if no water resided in this place.

Trager dashed through these plains at blinding speed, zigging and zagging and otherwise making his trail more confusing. The last thing I want, he thought, is to have those pesky Abbey brats knocking on our door. Finally, Trager stopped in front of what seemed to be an large, old, dead tree stump. While it was definately out of place, considering the lack of trees in the plains, it was in no way remarkable. It’s perfect for its purpose, thought Trager - conspicuous enough to notice, but not enough for a commoner to want to investigate it. Trager lifted the top part of the stump, uncovering a tunnel of sorts, and slipped into it.

The winding tunnel led to a large, dimly-lit underground cavern of sorts. Several candles hung from the cavern walls. Inside of the cavern was a sight that would make most goodbeasts shriek in alarm.

There were almost two scores of wolves assembled in the cavern!

The size and appearances of the wolves varied wildly. There were males, females, children, swordbeasts and archers, though none of them seemed as powerful or ferocious as Trager. Upon Trager’s arrival, these wolves turned their heads and simply glared, falling silent. Trager wasn’t exactly well-liked. He quite often felt that he was superior to the other wolves in the group – and he was often right.

In the back of the cavern there were three wolves in dark purple cloaks, sitting in jewel-encrested chairs forged of precious metals – relics of some forgotten kingdom. The three wolves were very elderly – easily twice as old as most of the other wolves. In their purple cloaks, they all looked identical. One of the elderly wolves stood and pointed a long, thin claw in Trager’s direction.

“So, Trager the Beast has returned from his task,” the old wolf wheezed. “Has he been succesful?”

“I have,” Trager responded coolly. He knelt and held the sword of Martin in front of the wolves. “Behold,” Trager exclaimed, “the key to our ultimate victory.”

“Yes, the sword is a key element in our plans,” another of the elderly wolves replied in a hoarse, angry tone. “Without it, the Erian Empire’s vengeance cannot be exacted. But, do not think we are fools, Trager. We have heard your whispers. Your goal is not to restore the Erian Empire to it’s former glory. You seek merely to use our plan to destroy the Woodlanders and the Vermin, then slay us all and rule for yourself! Well, do not think you can succeed! You may be superior in physical prowess to any of the other wolves of the remnants of Erian, but you are outnumbered, and cannot-”

The third of the violet robed wolves silenced his angry peer with a simple gesture. Trager remained notably silent during the accusations.

“I’m sure that Trager realizes the sheer foolishness of turning against the other Erians. Now, Trager, you had a second mission… did you learn the Secret of Mossflower?”

Trager looked away from the elders. “I… could not. The woodlanders, woodlanders that I am sure knew the Secret, refused to acknowledge anything, even an inch from death. The Secret of Mossflower is impossible for any of us to obtain.”

Surprisingly, the three elderly wolves began to laugh amongst themselves. Hoarse, choking laughter that conveyed just how long they had been alive. Trager’s eyes flew open with rage. “You.. you knew!”

One of the wolves sitting in the cave rose. Pointing at the elders, the tall, wiry wolf loudly cried, “how could you keep this from the rest of the Erians? We have a right to know such things! It is absurd-”

The laughter quickly ceased. “Be silent, Skaldar Weretooth!” one of the elders exclaimed loudly in a nasal tone. Skaldar quickly sat to the ground, mortified. “Yes, we three have known the Secret of Mossflower for some time. How else would we know that the sword was required?” said an elder. Then, his mouth changed into a twisted grin, showing five yellowing fangs. “We sent you on that errand to show you that ‘blithering old fools’ aren’t just ‘good for wheezing cryptic messages and making simple decisions.’”

Trager burned with anger, but inwardly he knew that the elders really were wise. They knew that Trager would not attempt to kill them before learning the Secret of Mossflower.

One of the elders spoke again. “What of Ayla Proudclaw? Why has she not returned with you?”

“She stuck behind to make sure that the she-weasel fulfilled her purpose,” Trager replied. “I’m sure she’ll return soon.” Trager hesitated. “You know, there were two or three wolves in that mercenary crew. I would have told them of the remnants of the Erian Empire, but… sacrifices had to be made.” Every wolf present instantly understood that Trager had had to kill the wolves to cover his tracks. But, they also accepted it – some times, as Trager said, sacrifices had to be made. “Ah, yes,” one of the Elders wheezed sadly. “It is a shame, isn’t it? At one time, we wolves controlled all that we surveyed… we Erians controlled both the Woodlanders and the Vermin, with the snakes and the lizards as our only true allies. But then…” the elderly wolf clenched his fist before continuing, “those impudent woodlanders destroyed our kingdom, and took it upon themselves to drive us out of civilization. And so many seasons later, our kingdom is a barren plain, our allies have become savages, and our race is diminished. The few wolves that survive in the outside world have been forced to join with pirates and scum!” The elder brought his fist down upon the arm rest of his chair.

“But, soon, my brother Erian,” another of the elders said, “soon we shall have our revenge! Our pitting of Woodlander against Vermin shall soon weaken both sides, and then with our final plan, we shall reclaim our rightful throne!”

The final elder spoke suddenly to Trager, as though he had forgotten something until now. “Trager… were you followed?”

“Well, technically,” Trager replied with no concern. “Just a couple would-be-heroes seeking the sword… kids, really.”

The elders all stood, enraged. “FOOL!” they said in unison.

“How many times must I tell you? If anybeast discovered us, our plains would be ruined! Especially if that beast was from Redwall! Even a child can destroy the best-laid plans,” one of the elders snarled.

“They couldn’t possibly follow my trail,” Trager replied, raising his hands. “And even if they could, they wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of the entrance!”

“Nevertheless,” another of the elders said, crossing his arms, “there is a chance that they might. Therefore they must be… disposed of.” He spread his arms. “Skaldar Weretooth! Daggoth Bloodfire! Garm the Impaler! Zarthan the Deciever! You four are amongst the greatest Erian warriors. You shall accompany Trager to the surface and make sure he fulfills his next mission – killing those who threaten our plans!”

As Trager, wielding the sword, departed with the four other wolves to the surface, one of the Elders whispered to himself, “Redwall must not discover what we are planning to do… what we are planning to unleash!”