- Brian Jacques
Lysander frowned down at the small fish stuck on a stick, roasting over his fire. A beast would be hard pressed to find a more perilous hare, but he was far from being an angler. Maybe if he’d happened upon an otter, but no such luck.
His stomach growled.
“TBT never said a bally thing about starvin’ on the way…” He sighed ruefully. “‘course, I prolly shouldn’t’ve dashed off without swingin’ by the ol’ mess, very unharelike of me, but when the bally Badger Lord calls, you hop to with the ol’ vinegar.”
He reached for the stick and grabbed it, holding the fish a few inches from his face. “You’ve got to be the tiniest fish I’ve ever snapped eyes on, wot.” With a single bite, Lysander’s meal was gone.
“A jolly feast, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said, dousing the fire and rising. “Those Redwall chaps are always throwing a feast or two, wot wot.” The hare’s mouth began to water at the thought of all the food that would be his for the picking upon his arrival at the Abbey. “They can surely throw one for me, least they can do, wot, traveling far and wide to come to their bally aid.”
Lysander shouldered his small traveling sack that contained the few berries he’d managed to collect along the way. His demeanor suddenly became very serious. “Right, enough of that. Off we go, jolly good and all that.”
With that, he was off, racing through the trees towards Redwall Abbey.
“There’s not many, as y’can see,” said Felcore, turning to face Forte the Otteroin. “Few score, no formal training, nothing against a horde that size.”
“It will have to be enough,” Forte replied. “The advantage is ours, however.”
“Redwall has repelled invasions before,” Alison, Badger Mother of Redwall, interjected. “Cluny the Scourge, General Ironbeak, Damug Warfang, Marlfoxes… our Abbey’s history is full of such accounts.”
“Aye,” Felcore agreed. “I remember the story of Cluny from when I was a dibbun m’self. But, I’d wager they had more to work with than we did. They had Matthias the Warrior, afterall. And the Sword of Martin.”
“In the end only,” Alison pointed out. “As we may yet.”
Felcore nodded, thinking of Daniel and the others, while Forte’s expression was that of confusion. “I am not familiar with your Abbey’s history,” he pointed out. “But, as I said, the advantage is ours. The walls are easily protected. If we reinforce the gates, we should be able to resist.”
“But, for how long?” Felcore asked. “Wait us out, that’s what they’ll do, wot. Winter’s coming up. Our stores won’t last forever, especially with all the bally extra mouths to feed.” He gestured off towards Nachoon and his band.
A voice interrupted them. “We will make do, Felcore.” Abbot Cornelius came up behind the trio. “And we shall not begrudge a full stomach to those who have offered us help.”
“Of course not, Father Abbot,” Felcore said with a bow. “I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, wot.” He twirled a whisker absentmindedly. “Fact remains, our stores won’t last us as long as they otherwise would’ve. Makes things a tad harder on us.”
“True,” the Abbot conceded. “But, think about them. They have no stores to aid them. Their kind is more prone to stealing food from others, profiting from the work of some poor beast. They shall have to fend for themselves.” The mouse spread his paws wide. “An army that size won’t last long.”
Forte nodded his head. “A wise Abbot indeed.”
Cornelius smiled. “Common sense isn’t wisdom, Sir Otteroin.”
Forte’s mouth widened in a smile. “You’re mistaken, Father Abbot,” he replied. “Common sense is the wisdom that matters.”
“So, what is it you and Felcore propose we do?” Cornelius asked.
Felcore cleared his throat and turned towards the many beasts assembled on the Abbey lawn. “We’ll start drilling ‘em in basic maneuvers, give ‘em proper training in being sentries. Get them up on the walltops. We should be able to give ‘em bows and arrows, have ‘em watching for the vermin.”
“Aye,” Forte agreed. “That’ll do for now. The otter crew and Nachoon’s band will take their place in the meantime, and Queen Spearwing’s scouts. We’ll have to have some hand to hand training. It’ll come to that, eventually. Frisk can help with that.”
“O’course, that only deals with the bally defense,” Felcore pointed out. “Still haven’t come up with a solution for driving the blighters away.”
“It will do for now, Felcore,” the Abbot assured him. “Very well. Proceed. May the spirit of Martin the Warrior watch over us… and over Daniel and his friends.”
Taking care not to rustle any leaves, the Skipper of Otters peered out from beneath a bush, surveying the riverbank. He’d been forced to take a circuitous route in order to skirt the vermin encampment. That had been a harder task than he’d thought, as every instinct in his being screamed for him to fight and protect the Abbey. It was unfortunate that protecting the Abbey meant avoiding conflict completely. His mission was too important to risk capture and death: he had to find Log-a-Log and the GUOSIM and bring them back to defend Redwall.
Unfortunately, that meant leaving his crew behind. Redwall couldn’t afford to spare any more beasts than was necessary, and only one was necessary.
The bank looked clear. Cautiously, Skipper creeped towards it. There was no telling how many scouts the vermin horde had patrolling the area. He reached the water without incident.
“The GUOSIM should be south this time of year,” he muttered. “Lucky for me.”
Without hesitation, he leapt into the river and was off with a swiftness only an otter could achieve.
Help was on the way.
Trager sat silently, shrouded by a heavy fur cloak that rendered him nearly invisible to the naked eye. He was pleased to be out of the Erian caves again, to not have to deal with the accursed elders and their half-truths and posturing. They had sought to humble him, to humiliate him. Had he not returned with the sword, they would have succeeded.
Long had the elders scorned him, seldom openly, but he heard their whispers in the dark. Their condemnation. Could an Erian not of Erian truly be an Erian? He was used to their suspicion by now. He welcomed it and took great pleasure each time they were forced to come to him with a task, each time they were forced to swallow their heavy pride and ask Trager the Beast for help.
That “secret of Mossflower” business had been a ruse to help them keep face and diminish him. Had they simply asked for the sword and Trager delivered, his own stature would have risen greatly among the Erians. Perhaps fearing a mutiny, the elders had concocted some mission about the secret of Mossflower so his success would be tempered with failure– thus ensuring their continued rule.
They would live to regret that.
No one, not even the Erian elders, made a fool of him.
He peeked out from beneath his cloak and immediately picked out where Skaldar, Daggoth, Garm, and Zarthan had situated themselves. They stuck out like sore paws. Still, they should be more than enough to handle those children and their otter friend. The otter was a skilled fighter, but not a warrior. The four wolves would be able to overpower him easily. That left the four children for himself. Trager smiled.
His four companions had wisely kept their distance from him, perhaps fearing the legend of Trager the Beast more than anything else. A wolf that appeared from across the sea, possessing intense knowledge of the Erian Empire and their remnant, of their royal bloodline… Who carried with him the pelt of their most skilled warrior. Trager stroked his cloak affectionately, recalling that day.
The elders hadn’t known what to do with him, whether to punish him or hail him. They wisely chose on hailing him. From that point on, Trager had been their champion, but he’d never been fully accepted as an Erian. Such trivialities didn’t matter to him, of course. It gave him plenty of time to pursue his own activities.
He had quite enjoyed manipulating the many vermin hordes over the seasons, bending them all to his will and leading them to their doom. A nice game worthy of his title, “the Beast”. Their type deserved it, never thinking for themselves, bowing and scraping, content to serve others. They were lower than Woodlanders. The only species that had even a sliver of Trager’s respect was his own kind, wolves.
He looked at Skaldar, Daggoth, Garm, and Zarthan again.
Of course, that respect didn’t automatically translate into respect for individuals.
He scanned the plains again for sight of the Redwallers. They would have to show up sooner or later.
The four Redwallers and Scamper had set up a makeshift camp in the plains as the sun began to set. Daniel had wanted to go on, but cooler heads had prevailed and they’d stopped for the night.
Since the young mouse’s previous encounter with Trager, though, it was as if a wall had been erected between him and his friends. An impossible gap that, no matter how they tried, could never be closed again. Every time Gunthre closed his eyes, he saw Daniel kneeling between the two slain vermin, covered in their blood.
Alfred kept glancing angrily at Daniel, taking his actions as a personal betrayal of sorts. Gunthre guessed it had more to do with losing his practical joke buddy than anything else. Daniel and Alfred had been close friends for seasons, and suddenly Daniel shows he’s capable of… that.
Daniel sat apart from them, back to the fire, facing east. Looking for Trager. Gunthre wondered again when exactly his friend had begun to change. Wondered if there were warning signs he’d missed, whether there was something he could have done to help him, to stop him.
The squirrel also tried to reconcile his thoughts. Martin the Warrior slayed many, as did Matthias and other Abbey warriors. It wasn’t as if the two vermin hadn’t deserved it– they were eating Dewblossom!– but, it was the fact that it was Daniel… their friend. The friend who’d helped them pull off so many practical jokes they’d lost count. The friend that had just been punished by the Abbot for one of them. The friend whose only care was in figuring out what mischief they could get into today. If Daniel was capable of slaying a beast, what about the rest of them? Were they capable of it, too?
Gunthre pulled out the dagger that had belonged to the Log-a-Log that had accompanied Martin the Warrior on his quest to Salamandastron. It had seemed like a grand adventure when they’d found these, like one of the old stories, despite the peril they faced. It had seemed like something a hero should have… he’d never considered putting it to use. They’d had Frisk and Scamper, and Erin, and Forte, and… four Redwallers wouldn’t be expected to fight.
Gunthre looked over at Scamper, the otter resting his head on one of their haversacks and feigning sleep. Every so often his eye would open almost imperceptibly, as if he were checking to make sure Daniel was still there. Scamper was all the four of them had now. They couldn’t always rely on him to take care of them– there were four of them and one of him, afterall. Maybe Daniel knew that. Maybe he was just the first of them to rise to the challenge.
The squirrel suppressed a shiver. Glancing at Gonjur, he wished he could be more like the hare. Wolfing down the food, seemingly unaffected by Daniel’s behavior and… wait, “wolfing down the food”?
“Gonjur!” Gunthre cried out. The hare froze as if he’d just been caught stealing candied chestnuts from Frier Ansom’s kitchen. His ears flopped down as he tried to look apologetic.
“I say, wot?” he asked.
Alfred unleashed his anger upon the hare, shouting, “What do you think you’re doing? That’s all the food we’ve got! You think we’re likely to find some Woodlanders out here in the middle of nowhere? That has to last us a long time!”
Gonjur patted his stomach. “But, I was absolutely famished. Nobody else seemed to want it, and…”
“That’s because everybody else already ate their fill and was saving the rest for later!” Alfred snapped, incredulously.
“First come, first serve, wot,” the hare whined.
“Shh, keep it down,” Scamper warned. “You’re making a racket.”
“But, I’m still hungry, ol’ chap,” Gonjur protested.
Wordlessly, Daniel shoved his half eaten pasty into Gonjur’s hand and returned to his vigil. The action drew Alfred’s attention back to him, effectively silencing the argument. Gonjur happily began eating the pasty as Scamper returned to his faux-nap.
Gunthre smiled. No, the Daniel they knew was still in there somewhere.
Frisk yawned and leaned against the battlements. “Quiet night,” he said to Nachoon.
“Aye,” the vole replied. “Calm before the storm, I reckon.”
“It’ll be a bad one,” the otter pointed out.
Nachoon nodded grimly. “Only kind there is, matey. Only kind there is.”
They moved on down the wall. “I’d have thought they’d have attacked the Abbey by now,” Frisk continued. “Seems like they’ve been out there forever.”
“They’re probably in a power struggle,” Nachoon answered. “Trager done up and left ‘em. Lotsa vermin captains would jump at just such an opportunity. Claim the horde as their own.”
“They’d skin their own mother for the chance, I’d wager.” The otter sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to be wary of the one that manages to rein ‘em in. That’d take a lot for a beast to do.”
“Sure enough,” Nachoon agreed.
The duo stared down at the woodlands silently, scrutinizing every branch movement, every rustle of leaves. The sound of singing from Cavern Hole rang through the air. “Huh,” Nachoon said. “Sounds like we’re missin’ ourselves a right ol’ party. Not very considerate.”
Frisk patted his shoulder. “Let ‘em have their fun. Won’t be much to celebrate here in the coming days.” His gaze shifted to that of the setting sun, barely a sliver above the treetops. “Sure hope Scamper and the others are okay.”
“They’ve got nothing to fear. Right ol’ warriors, every one of ‘em.”
“Ho ho!” Frisk bellowed. “Why, I bet ol’ Daniel’s gone and done the wolf in and they’re on their way back right now, a hun’red vermin slayed apiece!”
“Aye,” Nachoon joined in. “Bet yore right! Bet they’ll be marching o’er that there rise, singin’ and wailin’–” With that, the vole broke out in song.
Oh, we’re the Redwall war~riors,
the stoutest brave and true.
You ‘ad better watch out now,
’cause we’re comin’ after you!
No wolf nor wildcat
and nary a stoat,
could escape from us,
even if they ‘ad a boat!
Oh, we’re the Redwall war~riors,
an’ we’re comin’ after you!
Frisk clapped his hands in merriment. “Got a knack for the ol’ singin’, do ya, Nachoon?”
The vole shook his head. “Nah, I can make ‘em rhyme well enough, but thas about it.”
The otter pointed down to Cavern Hole. “Bet the Abbot’d want you down there entertaining the bunch if he knew.”
Nachoon snorted with laughter. “I’m put to much better use up here,” he said. He glanced out at the forest and was about to say something else when a torchlight caught his eye. “Ho! What’s that?”
Frisk squinted his eyes as he tried to peer into the darkness. One by one, more torchlights joined the first and they were moving steadily towards Redwall. “Twisters,” Frisk muttered. “That’s them, I’d bet my rudder on it.”
“Scoundrels,” Nachoon spat. “Attacking us at night.”
“Not entirely unexpected,” Frisk pointed out. “You go tell the Abbot, I’ll keep an eye on things here.”
“Right!” With that, the vole hurried off towards Cavern Hole, regretting the fact that he’d be spoiling their party.
Silently, Frisk watched the vermin move closer to the Abbey. This was it.