Like a disease, the empire had rose from a small start and had gone on to conquer the land. Vafír Silvertung, fox warlord of the south, had grown ambitious, and gathered vermin. He was sly, persuasive, and disciplined. He gathered raggedy bands of foxes and rats, then had them trained by himself and the few he found competent enough. Though they were small, they became strong, loyal, skilled, and smart. After years of gathering and training rats, weasels, stoats, ferrets, and foxes, his ambitions widened. He traveled to Drev Malki, fortress of wildcats, that had ruled the souther vermin. He had made a meeting with their leader, the fierce Zarvil Deathpaw, and killed the wildcat in a duel when the cat refused to submit to him. He then forced the wildcats to obliterate their own castle that they had so recently built. And it went so forth. All vermin of the southlands had gone from weak, undisciplined, stupid, foolhardy, and self-absorbed to strong, powerful, disciplined, smart, sly, and immensely loyal to one.
They had farms were the weaker vermin or their broken slaves worked at, feeding the massive army. The empire had expanded to islands, and had dominated the land. Vafír decided who lived or died, and now his ambitions were set northward.
He called his second in command, Darkblood the rat, to his study at his castle, Cruor Mors, previously called Floret when some foolish squirrels ruled the land.
"What lies to the north?" asked the fox.
Darkblood looked upon his master. Vafír was white, like a bleached bone. His eyes violet, and stared into your soul. He was dressed in a scarlet tunic that, laced with gold, and had no scars. No blade had ever come close enough. The fox was undersized, but Darkblood knew his mind was sharper and his sword skills mightier than any in the land. But the fox knew better than to kill his subjects. He punished them to the farms until they were stronger and more disciplined. All of his soldiers must be the best of the best. And Darkblood was the best of the best of the best.
"Lord, to the north is the forest of Mossflower, and that traveling gang of foxes say their is an abbey full of peaceable woodlanders, but many vermin have tried to conquer, and all failed. Furthermore, the mountain of Salamandastron is north, and Lord Brawblade Wildstripe is sympathetic with the abbey, and less fond of vermin. His army of hares are fierce fighters, even though we outnumber them. But there is still the fact of those who thought they could defeat them. You know the most famous of them. Cluny the Scourge, Ferrahgo the Assassin, Ruggan Bor, his descendants are with us, actually–"
"I know the names, Darkblood. More than you probably. Slagar, Razzid, Gulo, and more, and I know they failed," Silvertung said. Then grinned slyly, "But you know how I love a challenge."
Don't stop running.
At the moment, the thoughts of Tharius Oakleaf was directed on his escape. He had been powerful and smart, but not smart enough to see the truth. And his consequence was a sentence to slavery. The squirrel had been put to work because of his foolhardy ideas.
They aren't so foolhardy, he thought. Bluenose was a good egg.
Tharius was a powerful and young squirrel warrior and camo expert, but he was also a philosopher and smarter than most thick-skulled warriors. He had an idea. For a long time he wondered what was it with the vermin always being so cruel, why the other creatures more willing to do good. He had heard of good creatures before that were vermin, but still...
His mind reeled has he recalled his memories.
The vermin camp had a score of villains,, with many rats, and a scattering a ferrets, stoats, weasels, and few foxes. They were led by a fox called Yellowfang, who was the greediest, ugliest, and cruelest of the pack. Tharius, in the pose of a weasel named Coldeyes, joined the thugs a week earlier.
"Yah, give it 'ere," shouted a rat as he tried to pull a bird carcass from a fat weasel.
"Hah! Yer own mother wouldn't feed yer ugly face," retorted the weasel as he yanked the carcass back and sunk his greenish teeth in it.
A runtish, white-furred fox was carefully roasting a quail over the fire. He had carefully plucked all the feathers from, for which he had time to do so. He was the best archer of the gang and had made it back to camp quickly, but took care in roasting the bird. He gagged as he saw the portly weasel tearing at the bird.
Tharius, not being able to stomach it either, walked over to the fox.
"You're not getting my food," if that's what you want," said the fox without looking at him. He pulled the bird from the fire and set on piece of flat slate, then began cut it with a perfectly maintained knife. He picked the pieces and put them in his mouth, seeming satisfied.
"What do you think of the group?" asked Tharius, this fox certainly seemed the sanest of the lot.
The fox looked at him. The violet eyes pierced his soul.
"I think they're idiots. Something inside us pulls us vermin to kill and plunder. We don't have much thinkers. Though, as a squirrel you don't have it, all of us do."
Tharius gaped. "How–"
"Shh," the fox placed a paw over Tharius's mouth. "Not one other knows except for those three," he paused and pointed at very runty weasel with a thin beard, a one-eyed stoat, and completely black and scarred rat. "and we can trust him. We're the thinkers, the few vermin you'll ever meet. I'm Vafír Silvertung, the weasel is Bluenose, the stoat is Deadeye, and the rat is Darkblood. I knew what you were and what you were doing the moment you came here, and I think you can help us break the pull. We leave tonight."
The memories went to later on.
Vafír's sword was at Tharius's throat. They were beside a river, Darkblood was behind Tharius, his footpaw on the one who had stayed on Tharius's side, Bluenose, and Tharius's sword in his paw. They clearly knew how to fight, but Deadeye was obviously only a thinker, and not much of one at that, and didn't know how to hold a sword. He were nursing their wounds inflicted by themself or Tharius. Bluenose had tried to defend Tharius, but was like deadeye, and had dropped his sword on his foot.
"You lied to me," said Tharius, through gritted teeth.
"Not at first, but I realized my greed for power and the dark pull inside was too strong. You can't tame darkness."
"I tamed Bluenose."
The fox's smile faltered for a second. "Yes, unfortunate that he must join you on the journey to the Dark Forest. He's quite smart, and had a lot of potential."
Tharius frowned. He'd been in tough scrapes before, but he didn't know how to get out of this one. He could take a risk, or die.
He obviously didn't want to die.
He let himself fall backwards, than dodged to the side with the grace only a squirrel could maintain, and leaped backwards, shoving Darkblood back into the river, and grabbed his sword from the rat's grasp. Darkblood swam swiftly to the otherside, knowing what would happen if he got caught in the river's strong current.
Bluenose picked his sword off the ground and charged Deadeye, as Silvertung charged Tharius.
"Foolish!" shouted Vafír, as he stabbed at the squirrel, but the usually cautious fox had misjudged his attack, and went careening into the river, swimming to join Darkblood. Bluenose and Deadeye were still dueling clumsily, so Tharius stabbed the stoat in the back, and pulled the weasel to follow them, as they tried to run, leaving Silvertung glaring malevolently out of his violet eyes.
Eight seasons later, Vafír had personally hunted down Tharius and Bluenose, then put them to slave away, doing the most difficult of labor. After a foolish slave captain told the squirrel to run up the tree to harvest it, Tharius took the opportunity and fled.
He jumped through the trees until he was deep in the forest. Then for the first time in over a score of seasons, he was finally free.
Old Uggo and Posy Wiltud were the most ancient creature at Redwall Abbey. Their children were now fathers and mothers, and they still remembered how Razzid Wearat had threatened the abbey. They had seen friends come and go, and had both experienced positions of high privilege, Uggo became abbot and Posy became champion, but both became too old and had retired to manage the Redwall Archives.
Chubbo, their grandson, a portly hedgehog dibbun, was sleeping on the floor. Uggo was reading Seasons of the Savage and Posy reading about how Martin's journey before when he lived in the north.
"Alas," remarked Posy, "I wish I was young enough to travel up north and see Marshank."
Uggo chuckled. His wife was always fiercer than him. She wanted to see Marshank, while wanted to visit Noonvale. She wanted to see the waterfall where Gulo's horde fell, he wanted to eat the Guosim's food. "Ye hope to see another adventure?"
"Aye, but the adventure'd come here. I can't travel anymore."
"Well, I ain't hopin' for that. Would mean the abbey's in danger. Though I would like to get a feat that's half as good as slaying Razzid Wearat!"
"Jum helped me."
"Ye were no more than a dibbun. Astonishin', truly! But as it is, I'm hoping he doesn't come back to life. I would like to win that feat, but I'm hoping I don't get the chance."
"Well I'm hoping for an adventure. Just a chance to do another great thing."
"Ye just might, Posy m'dear. I don't hope, but ye just might."
Uggo had no idea how right he was.
The South Path
Fifty ranks, each with a score of vermin. Wildcats, foxes, stoats, weasels, ferrets, and rats. They marched forward through the forest, obliterating the lower foliage. At the back of the ranks were the leaders. Vafír Silvertung, Darkblood the Rat, a few generals such as a wildcat called Bladefire, an expert tactician Vafír had promoted to third in command, a pine marten called Zäev, and a warlord from farther south that was forced to submit to Vafír after they dueled weaponless, resulting Vafír forcing him to knock a tree down, nearly crushing the wolverine, Umbro had joined Vafír. And while the wolverine was the dumbest of the horde, Vafír could not deny his impressive strength.
They came across a small farm. Expecting it to be filled with dormice, or some hedgehogs, Vafír had sent a former weasel corsair captain, Bloodpatch, and his former crew to pillage it, and then catch up to the horde later.
It was said all of Silvertung's army were completely loyal. But in such a large horde, each vermin rigorously trained in the mind, there would obviously be a mutinous few. Bloodpatch and his crew were an example.
The corsair weasel was of stock build, and an expert with weapons, made better by rigorous training. He had a score of crew members, searats mostly, with a scattering of stoats and weasels, a few ferrets, and one fox. They all agreed that Bloodpatch should rule Silvertung's horde, and they should be his generals, but not on much else.
"Yarr! I get the biggest bread loaf!" called a fat stoat called Lumpgutt.
"Ha! Ye don't need any more bread, ye fat hog!" retorted a rat called Dethfur, Bloodpatch's second in command.
"Finders keepers! That's how the sayin' goes!" called a ferret, Foulpaw, as he rushed in the cottage.
There was a yowl as the weasel limped out, bleeding from a long cut across his leg. Behind him a light-furred fox came out, shouting, and holding a rusty cutlass. Behind him was a darker-furred vixen and young, chubby fox.
"You try to pillage again and you'll lose yer paw! Rest assured I won't kill you, though. Me granfather's granfather was a wise beast, when the squirrel killed the Savage, he didn't fight, and lived, unlike the others with him. So he vowed never to kill, an' neither will I!"
Unable to fully understand the fox, but nevertheless understanding his message, Bloodpatch strode up to the fox, and knocked the blade from the hand, and the fox's fur went even lighter. The corsair captain grinned.
"Listen fox. Ye got two minutes to run with yer fam'ly. Then me crew'll steal yer goods an' kill what's left in this house, then burn it an yer farm."
The fox stared defiantly at the weasel, then ran, the vixen and the youth followed him.
Bloodpatch looked at the others. "Alrigh'. Mateys, we eat whatever's 'ere and just tell Silvertung the place was abandoned. Nobody has to know
The crew members hungrily went through the house, devouring everything edible (and a few things that weren't), except for their tracker, a rat named Nightrip.
"Silvertung won't believe that. And it would be better if we–"
"Yarr! Do I care what ye thinks! We eat!" shouted Bloodpatch, lifting him by the scruff of his tunic. The rat nodded hastily, then Bloodpatch threw him at the ground, injuring his paw. He walked forward, opened a cupboard, and pulled out a piece of cheese, which he tore at, spitting everywhere. He picked up a piece of wood and lit it, starting a small fire. "Everybody out!"
All the vermin tore out as the weasel dropped the torch. However, Lumpgutt, who was slow with both legs and mind, was engulfed in flames, as was Nightrip's paw. The rat crawled out, but the crew was already leaving.
The crew made it back to the horde by running. They told their story to Silvertung, who seemed phlegmatic about it. However, the fox did have a question.
"You're missing three of your crew."
Bloodpatch knew Lumpgutt and Nightrip would be gone, but as he looked around, he noticed Dethfur was missing as well. He thought quickly.
"They be coverin' our tracks. Yeah." Bloodpatch knew something would go wrong, but it was better than nothing.
"Dethfur!" Silvertung called. Behind the white fox the black rat came out, followed by the limping Nightrip. Bloodpatch's jaw dropped.
Silvertung began addressing the whole horde.
"Back in the south, if you misbehaved, I would send you to the farms among the mice and squirrels and whatnot.
But here, sending you to the farms would be pointless. So the punishment has gotten more... severe."
The crew had faces of fear, along with fury at Dethfur.
"Ye'll will face me to single combat, pirate."
Bloodpatch chuckled fearfully. Then he pointed at his crew and tried to say something, but his mouth was dry.
"Not them. This is your fault. Mistreating your crew was another crime your guilty of."
The crew looked confused. Then they got a wink from Dethfur, and their confusion cleared.
"Make a circle around us. Draw your sword, weasel."
The other vermin circled around Vafír and Bloodpatch. Vafír drew his sabre, Bloodpatch drew a cutlass, as Vafír moved in front of the massive Umbro. Trying to make his last act killing his most hated foe, Bloodpatch charged forward, slashing.
"Eeeeaaargghhhhh!" He cried, charging forward. He relished as his cutlass hit flesh. He slashed and slashed as he realized he was striking black fur.
He looked up, fearfully, realizing he had attacked Umbro. The massive wolverine growled and lifted Bloodpatch in the air. Their was a snap as Umbro broke the weasel's neck and a thud as the body fell to the floor.
"Ye did that on purpose," whispered Foulpaw, who was behind Vafír.
"That's right. I did."
The light-furred fox, Erzvin the scholar, the vixen, Zeela, and their son, Mervo, had been running hard for hours. They had passed the vast horde and walked through Mossflower Woods. Soon after they passed the burnt remains of a church with a still-surviving sign (that said Saint Ninian's in faded letters) when they found a redstone abbey at twilight. Zeela had a pack that had some herbs, food, and a few of Erzvin's books, she had been mindful enough to grab the pack on their way out.
The abbey was ominously large at night. Erzvin and his family walked toward the wooden gates, and began knocking, waiting for an answer. After a minute, a youngish otter and a portly, ancient hedgehog with gray fur looked over the wall.
"What do ye want, fox?" called the otter.
"Please me and my family were driven from our farms, we have information. There's a big vermin horde coming, they drove me away. My wife is a herbalist, and I'm a scholar and have plenty of plant knowledge, and I have books you could–" the fox paused, as if realizing something, but the hedgehog interrupted.
"Don't listen, Skip. Foxes allus were liars."
A young mousemaid called Anera walked up. "I'd agree. A scholar AND farmer? It's a little outrageous. But, still, they have a dibbun with them."
Skipper nodded. Before he could say anything, the fox joined again.
"You couldn't be... Redwall Abbey?" Erzvin asked. When the three nodded, he hesitated and said, "My great-great-grand-father served under a mad wolverine that attacked this place, he was the last survivor in the army; he passed his knowledge down to me, it could be useful in your archives."
Uggo took the fox's side at knowledge of the addition. "Hrrm. This could be nice to Seasons of the Savage, and would show something about Vermin culture."
Skipper nodded, but was otherwise phlegmatic. After a quick decision.
"Fine, fox. But just a little bit of...funny business...and I'll order Friar Billo to cook yer tail."
Skipper, Uggo, Posy, Abbess Fern, and other elders, with the foxes had called for a council to address Erzvin's warning.
"Must have been a thousand warriors camping out there, they're heading this way. They have some kind of Empire, and I believe they aren't coming to negotiate. The size of the army! And they probably had even more in the south. They're on the south path, It's only a matter of time before they get here," said Erzvin.
Abbess Fern was a middle-aged mouse. She had previously been in charge of the abbey's gardens, and when Uggo was to old to continue as abbot, the elders unanimously chose the young, though humble and wise, Abbess Fern. "One thousand?" she asked, and the fox nodded.
The elders were gaping. To muster such a force... "Do you know the leader?" asked Uggo.
Zeela thought about. "He rules the south. We lived at the border of his land, but he's an undersized, white fox with violet eyes. He's supposed to be quite smart. They call him Vafír Silvertung."
Fern thought about this. "Hmm... A force so large, and if that is their leader, he'd be ruling them on more than fear. They wouldn't listen to a runty fox unless there was something different about him. I think our best bet is Salamandastron."
The foxes looked confused, but the elders nodded. Skipper said: "We'll send a messenger on the great south stream. It's our best hope."
The foxes were still confused, but until more information was known, the council was disbanded.
The Great South Stream
Tharius was in the trees, near Vafír's army. Redwall abbey was quite, close, the Great south stream was in front of them, Saint Ninian's across the stream. The army was waiting to see if WROOTS(Water Rat Organization Of The South), who lived in a big lake, had received Vafír's message. Sure enough, after about an hour, many longboats started floating down the Great South Stream.
Vafír and half the army prepared to go. WROOTS had made just the right amount of space for the rats to crew the boats and have space once Vafír's army joined. Overall about two-hundred water rats, twenty-five in each of the eight longboats, and had space in each boat for about five-hundred crew members.
Vafír turned to Darkblood.
"You will take control of the remaining half. You will conquer Redwall while I take over Salamandastron. We will need to do something different from the hordes of the past. Here is my plan."
Vafír handed a piece of parchment and small bag to Darkblood. The rat scanned over the parchment, and his eye widened. "Will you do the same thing with Salamandastron?" He asked.
The white fox smiled and tapped a glass vial in his belt. "If it comes to it. But I have... other ideas."
Darkblood nodded as Vafír joined a ship and sailed off.
Tharius viewed the spectacle. As he became too distracted, he fell to from the tree with an audible thud.
Darkblood turned. "What was that?"
Tharius scrambled back up the tree and went silent, waiting to see if something would happen.
Darkblood went toward the tree. Tharius clearly left tracks, but Darkblood could not see where they came from. "Nightrip! You're the best tracker. Come hear!"
The rat, the only one of Bloodpatch's crew that had stayed behind, limped forward and inspected the tracks carefully. He observed the tree, and noticed the scratch marks on it. He looked upward and stared for a few seconds. They he pointed forward, to the rest of the forest, and said: "They went that way."
Darkblood nodded and decided it wasn't worth it. Then he walked away with Nightrip.
Tharius breathed a sigh of relief and wondered what the rat had done.
Find the Enemy's Friend
Find the Betrayed
The lost prince of the south
To help save the day
Go to Salamandastron
Bring him my Sword
The rightful heir to the south
Help return his crown.
Anera woke with a start. She was in front of the legendary tapestry of Martin the Warrior. Martin had appeared in her dream and given her a message.
She became slightly excited. The abbey was definitely in trouble, and she had received a message from Martin the Warrior, as she read about in the archives.
She decided to find Abbess Fern. She started asking around.
"Do you know where the abbess is?" she asked the nearest creature to her.
Mervo the young fox nodded, and indicated the pile of books in his paws. "Abbess is with Uggo. Dey let me haf deese books."
As the young fox walked away to read, Anera sped toward the archives and burst through the door.
"Abbess! Uggo! I think I just got a message from Martin the Warrior!"
Uggo nodded, he had learned from experience to trust Martin's word. Anera told the riddle and Uggo recorded.
"Hmm... Well if we had some more knowledge from the south... huh," said a confused Uggo.
"Anera, go get a mole you can trust, their logic is always good. And find Erzvin the fox. He lived close to the south," commanded Fern.
Anera nodded and sped off. A couple minutes later she returned, breathless, followed by a stout mole called Bungle and Erzvin the fox. Fern showed them Uggo's recording of the riddle.
"Hurr, dat be a gurt 'ead scrasher, no moistake," reported Bungle in his molespeech. "Oi dink Martin want us to get 'is sword to oo'ever 'ee be talkin' 'bout."
Fern smiled and said, "Classic mole logic. But who is Martin talking about."
Erzvin grinned. "That's where I come in. Before Silvertung came into power the south was ruled by the weaker force of the wildcats, and the stronger force of the goodbeasts at castle Floret, ruled by King Truffet VIII, his wife, queen Karina, and their children. The princesses, Viola, Triana, Mina, and the Princes, Truffet IX, Regulon, and Tharius. Silvertung came and killed all of them, except young Tharius. The squirrel was put to hard labor for a few seasons, the Silvertung would give him a very painful death. Had something against the squirrel, I believe.
"Hurr, Darius must be de lost prince, oi believe."
The others nodded.
"So I think I need to go, alone, to Salamandastron," said Anera.
Even though the others nodded, Abbess Fern shook her head. "No. Skipper's daughter and a whole platoon of otters will be going already to get help. We'll send the sword with them."
"Abbess, Martin was pretty clear–" began Uggo, but was cut off.
"No! Why should we endanger her?" Anera was an orphan that came to the abbey. Fern, who lost her husband and dibbun child to a sickness, thought of the young mousemaid as her own daughter, and was very overprotective.
"Skipper's platoon will leave tomorrow. We will send the sword with them. That is final."
Everybody disagreed, but the Abbess would not change her mind.
Uggo found Anera sitting on the wall, gazing at the stars.
"You must go. If Martin wanted others, he would say. And if there's anything I learned from being the Archive Master, it's that Martin's always right.
"So I already made preparations. I will give you a copy of yer riddle, the sword, some rations, and I have made a boat. The design was by a good rat called Blaggut; a dibbun could control it. Come."
He took out of the abbey to the Great South Stream. He gave her the copy, a bag of rations, and the sword, and she boarded and sailed away after saying her thanks.
Uggo felt he had done something great. Finally.
The Great South Stream
Dethfur, Foulpaw, and four others from the crew, all searats, Crabtooth, Ripjaw, Ragburn, and Oiltail, sat swigging wine and doing one one of their favorite activities: Plotting Vafír's death.
"'E thinks 'e be sooo smart. Huh. I'll show 'im," said Ragburn in his scratchy voice.
"What if we set fire to his boat?" said Oiltail, indicating the longboat in the very far back.
"How will we reach the boat without being noticed," asked Foulpaw.
A small paper floated from a nearby tree and landed on Ripjaw's head. The rat picked it off his head and unfolded it, then began to read; "Once we conquer Salamandastron, Vafír 'ill 'ave a nice feast. All we gotta do is poison 'is food or drink."
They all grinned at the idea, including Tharius, whom was hiding in the trees.
Bluenose the weasel was not one to miss something. And when Vafír and his horde left, he definitely noticed.
After Vafír had caught him, Bluenose had endured hard slavery. He had no joy until Tharius Oakleaf had freed himself. He now sat in one of the slave compounds that belonged to Vafír, and was talking to a young otter, named Streampaw about plans of escape.
"This is our chance, with Silvertung gone," said Bluenose.
"Yes. But how?"
"We wait till we work in the woods. Then we climb the trees to escape."
"We're not squirrels, matey."
Bluenose nodded. "I know. But what if we find other ideas? Otters could wait till they're near the river. Moles could grab a chance and dig away. Squirrels could climb trees."
"What about you? And the mice, and hedgehogs, and voles, and shrews, and old ones, and young 'uns?"
Bluenose nodded. "The otters, squirrels, and moles will go across to the other compounds and give them the plan. Once you have an army of otters, squirrels, and moles you can raid the compounds to free the others."
"You really thought of everything."
The weasel shook his head. "You can never think of everything."
Mervo, obviously, did not fit in with the other dibbuns.
To start, he was the only fox. Furthermore, he was quite odd. He did not enjoy eating, playing, or mis-behaving as much as the others. Instead, he spent most of his time on the abbey's lessons, which he found fascinating, and in the archives with the Wiltuds.
Needless to say, the other dibbuns resented him.
Mervo had been hanging by himself, crying, after a few otter dibbuns nearly drowned him in the abbey pond. He was soaking wet and sad, and had walked out of the abbey gates, wanting to find peace in the forest. He found a big oak and leaned against it, and opened his book. It was one of his favorites, of Martin the Warrior, and the wildcats of Kotir. As he read, a thought came to him. What if he could find Brockhall?
He had known others had found it. Truth be told, if he did find it, he definitely would not go in. It was probably filled with adders and such.
He past the burnt remains of Saint Ninian's. He walked around in it, and a tug of sadness pulled at him. This was a great historical site, but it was burned to the ground. All because somebody had got themselves killed in here.
As he looked, he found an old box on the floor. It must have been fireproof, and Mervo did a quick test to find out how old it was.
Hundreds of seasons old. It must have been there before Luke the Warrior inhabited it. He gingerly opened the box. Inside was an ancient scroll. He unrolled it, finding it to be in a very different language. He tucked in side the leather bag he used to carry books. He would show it to Uggo and Posy when he got back.
Then he felt something sharp touch his back. He turned and saw a villainous-looking ferret with dark fur holding a cutlass to his back. He let out a whimper of fear.
"Hah. Got you!"
The ferret forced young Mervo into a vermin camp.
"That's a fox," said a dark-furred rat that seemed in charge.
"'e was from the abbey," replied the ferret.
The vermin grinned wickedly at the small fox. All except one. Nightrip instantly remembered Mervo, and Mervo remembered him. They stared at each other, until the dark-furred rat walked up and grabbed Mervo by the arm, and tugged him to a wooden pole, then tied the young fox around.
"I reckon you'll be useful," said the rat.
"YOU WHAT?" shouted Abbess Fern.
"I've learned to trust Martin's word. Don't let you emotions clog your wisdom," replied Uggo calmly.
Fern shook her head. "Skipper!" she called.
Moments later, the sturdy otter ran into the archives. "What do you want, Abbess?"
"Send your platoon. Tell them to deliver the message and help Anera once they catch up."
The otter nodded. He called for his daughter, Brookstream, who was in charge of the platoon.
"Got it, Skip. Just give us a few minutes to pack our bags."
Skipper and the Abbess nodded, but Uggo said, "Please, Fern, this is a bad idea."
Fern shook her head. "No! Uggo–"
"Abbess! Listen, Martin's word is the truth. Believe me!"
Fern sharply shook her head. "They're going, weather you agree or not."
Anera was enjoying herself immensely. She sat happily in her boat. The little thing completely bypassed the vermin camp she saw. Uggo had given her some books, but most of the she spent sightseeing. Blaggut's design was so simple, she really did not have to worry about letting the little boat go awry.
She had never been this far from the abbey; Fern had been too overprotective. She loved the smoothness of the river, the beauty of the forest, and the overall joy she was feeling.
Life was good.
Brookstream and the otters were enjoying themselves immensely. They sung otter tunes, had hotroot eating contests, and more. Their boat was fairly fast, and would catch up to Anera quickly.
"There she is!" called an otter named Quickflow.
Sure enough, Anera's small boat was just ahead. Then they would get help from Salamandastron and save the abbey.
Life was good.
Fyron, the ferret that caught Mervo, and had recently been promoted to captain, was enjoying himself immensely. He enjoyed his newfound power. After just a little bit, he heard some songs.
He looked through the trees to the river. An otter shop was moving quickly downstream. He smiled. This was his chance to prove Darkblood was right to promote him.
He pointed at his platoon. "Everybody, get bows and go downstream. Get ready to shoot at that boat. I think it might be tailing master Silvertung."
The archers nodded and ran, then drew their bows. A few seconds later he heard twangs, coupled with otter's screams.
Life was good.
Lord Brawblade Wildstripe was forging a battle axe, when a young scout called Alfar came rushing into the ford.
"Sah! Water rats sailing into the Great South Stream! They have others on the boat, sah!"
"Do you know the leader?"
"I think it's the Emperor, wot wot! The one from the south, Silvertung!"
Brawblade nodded. "I'd worried he'd come here. Tell the hares to prepare for war!"
Vafír began to show his plan to the horde. He held up the glass vial.
"Here I have a rare disease known as Dryditch. It destroyed an abbey known as Loamhedge once, and almost destroyed Redwall. We will use it to conquer Salamandastron. I have a cure. You remember Clogg?"
They all laughed. A fat stoat from the north had come down once, singing to a bunch of flowers. The stoat, Tramun Josiah Cuttlefish Clogg XIII. He was immediately turned into a slave.
"Well those flowers are the only thing that cures it. So we can cure ourselves, while the hares and badger gets sick and die. We'll win without losing a single beast!"
The horde cheered. However, Tharius, who was watching them, did not. Instead, he ran towards the mountain to tell what he had seen.
Mervo was crying himself silly when he felt the ropes go loose.
He felt Nightrip's paw on his shoulder and heard the rat's voice. "Stay quiet. I'm trying to save you."
Mervo silenced himself. He followed Nightrip away from the camp.
"I never wanted to hurt you. I swear," said the rat. "I was a good tracker so I got into Bloodpatch's crew. And I was smart, so Vafír liked me. But I was forced to do every bad thing. I always felt different. Like I was more mouse than rat. This is my chance to redeem myself."
Mervo nodded and wiped away tears. "Thank you," he said quietly.
Then he walked right into the returning Fyron.
Mervo quickly hid behind a tree.
"Sorry captain!" said the rat. "The fox slipped away so General Darkblood sent me–"
Fyron sneered. "Shoo, runt. We have more important matters."
Nightrip scurried away. Mervo followed him from behind the trees. He stepped out and began again to follow Nightrip when a weasel called Earfang, who was getting rid of their tracks, came up to them.
He noticed Mervo.
He grabbed at the fox. "The prisoner–"
Nightrip pulled a knife out and stabbed the weasel in the back. But Fyron's platoon was already coming back.
"Run!" shouted the rat. When Mervo proved to slow, he picked up the fox. They ran, Nightrip faltered for a second, allowing the vermin to catch up to them.
Just before the fasted, a stoat, caught up to them, an otter burst from the water. He was bleeding from his shoulder, but he quickly grabbed Nightrip's knife and stabbed the stoat.
"GO!" shouted the otter.
Nightrip ran with Mervo until they were deep in the forest and the rat faltered and tripped, an arrow protruding from his back.
The fox turned Nightrip over.
"I'm going, young un," said the rat. Tears poured from both their eyes. "I'm going to the dark forest. At least... at least I'll die brave."
"No!" cried Mervo, but the rat was already gone. Into the place for heroes in the dark forest.
"Quickflow! And he has young Mervo with him!" called Abbess Fern. The worried fox parent, Zeela and Erzvin, were having tea with the Abbess, Posy and Skipper to calm their nerves.
The gates were opened and Quickflow hurried up the walls, carrying young Mervo. The otter was bleeding from his shoulder, shin, and cheek, and his left ear was missing. But he was alive. They both had tears on their face.
Mervo ran to his parents and hugged them. "The vermin caught me. The others were mean to me so I went to the forest- but a rat, one that kicked us from the farm, saved me. But-" Mervo stammered, then erupted in tears.
Quickflow looked at them. "The rat that saved him died. He might want some sleep."
The parents nodded, and Zeela asked, "Why are you not with the platoon?"
Quickflow shook his head sadly. "The vermin attacked. I was the only one to survive."
Skipper looked up. "What about-"
Quickflow shook his head sadly. Skipper slowly stared, then fainted, his chair falling back and his tea spilling everywhere.
Posy glared at Abbess Fern. "You! If you hadn't ordered the otters to go, if you had just listened to Martin the Warrior, we wouldn't have lost those lives. This is your fault."
The old hedgehog stood up and stalked off. Fern put her head in her hands and began to cry.
Mervo went to the archives to return the books he had borrowed. Uggo and Posy were obviously in a bad mood, but gladly welcomed him, and obviously felt bad for the young fox. As Erzvin was pulling the books out of his bag, he realized he had forgotten about the script he found in Saint Ninian's.
"Mr. Wiltud," he said, pulling out the script. "I found this scroll in Saint Ninian's. Do you have any idea what it means, I don't know the language."
Uggo looked at the scroll, then laughed. "See, Posy! I knew I'd be glad I learned Ancient Badger! Listen, Mervo. Come back tomorrow. I should have it translated by then."
Mervo nodded. "Thank you."
Uggo laughed. "It's good to see the future is in good hands. Also, I want to show you something learned from your father's contribution. It was written by your great-great-grandfather."
He pulled a leather-bound book from a shelf he had seen his father observe many a time, and handed it to Mervo.
My name is Zêrin. I served in Gulo the Savage's army, something I will always regret. My friends have all passed, and I ran away. Something is pulling me to go out and kill. It reminds me of what I have heard of the badgers' bloodwrath, though this is constant, yet not overwhelming. I have found the remains of an old church. There I have found some ancient badger script that I believe could save myself and my descendants if I have any.
So now I change myself. I change myself, in order to give me a choice, like the goodbeasts in Redwall Abbey.
In order to do so, I must break the pull. This is my story..."
The Past, The Sand Dunes
Zêrin the fox hiked through the fields, his yearn for blood urged him to plunder, but he pushed it down. Unless he succeeded, the wrath would overcome him. So he must do what needs to be done. He must find the source.
There was the mighty mountain Salamandastron. He must go through it, unlock its secrets, without being slain by Lady Melesme and her hares, or letting his wrath overcome him. A difficult plan, but necessary.
He followed the instructions of the ancient Badger Scroll. Sneaking by the dunes, he felt around until he found the passage. The sand sifted away, revealing a secret passageway. He crawled through the ancient wooden door, revealing an old emerald mine that used to belong to shrews. He walked along the old rails when he found the minecart.
Filled with small skeletons.
The mine had been victim of a gas leak, killing its workers. The gases had passed by now, Zêrin hoped. The tracks were eerie in the pitch black mine. He couldn't see, only feel in the darkness and trust a scroll he found in a burnt church.
At last he found it. A room he knew was part of Salamandastron. There was a treasury, gold, jewels, armor, and weapons. There was a badger here, his inscription marked Urthstripe.
Zêrin felt a deep pull of greed to steal the treasure, but logic cut in. He must do this. So he pressed on. He found a large emerald and pushed it into a mold in the wall. A few rocks gave, revealing yet another passage. He walked through. There was a skeleton of a rat, wildcat, toad, newt, lizard, weasel, stoat, ferret, polecat, ermine, pine marten, wolverine, badger, several blackbirds (crows, jackdaws, etc), sable, wearet, and a fox. They crowded around a large altar with a beautiful red gem pointing upward.
Zêrin placed the emerald on the gem. He felt a surge through, then was blasted back. Into the room with the incredible treasury.
He felt something. He was now in complete control of himself. Then he laughed. And he was filled with such mirth, he started singing. Not a song of death or war, but of joy.
Oh, I am free, I feel I could fly like a bee,
The joy, the joy, I am free, not a toy.
Not controlled by some mythical spell,
Oh, what a tale I have to tell.
I am Freeeeeeeeeee!
(Author's Note: This is not Zêrin's full story. I plan to make a full-out fan-fic about that, but not at the moment. This is just what matters for this story.)
Vafír leaned against a sand dune, thinking. He was planning with a general, the Pine Marten Zäev Ashleg. Zäev did not actually have an ash leg, but his ancestor did, and the name stuck through generations.
"Your plan is brilliant, Silvertung," praised the Pine Marten.
Vafír nodded, but then said, "This is disease we're talking about, hundreds of things could go wrong. We must have a back-up plan."
Zäev smiled and nodded. "We most definitely outnumber them, especially with WROOTS with us. What do you think?"
"The plan Darkblood'll use to break into Redwall. We'll blast the way in."
Zäev was confused, but he knew Vafír knew what to do. The fox always did.
Findelo Gonfelin the Wandering Bard was a joyful mouse, and true to his name, enjoyed wandering, singing, and eating. He had played at Redwall, Salamandastron, Noonvale, Castle Floret, and many other places. The fellow was waltzing through the mountains singing a ditty and playing his lute when he saw Anera's boat.
"'Lo, there! What are you doing sailing through the mountains alone?"
Anera chuckled. "I must do a mission."
"What sort of mission could this be?"
"I'm from the Redwall place. We're in danger, and I received a warning from Martin the Warrior."
"Ah! Redwall. Great tuck there. Hmmm... The Martin chap helped found the place, did he not? So did my ancestor. Anyway, could it be all those vermin that sailed past here? They were followed by a squirrel. Heh. They were were watched by a squirrel that was watched by me."
"Possibly." Could the squirrel be Prince Tharius? "They came down this stream?"
"They did. Well you better go. But rest assured," the mouse grinned, "I'll be there to help if there's trouble."
Anera laughed as she sailed away.
Tharius Oakleaf was on his way to Salamandastron. He walked away from the vermin camp in the swamplands and was headed toward the great Salamandastron. He walked past the great dunes, and was chewing on some limpets when he saw some vermin scouts.
"Phah! Why do we need to search for somethin'? The hares already know we're here. He doesn't think 'e can 'ide the 'ole 'orde, does 'e?" asked a ferret called Fleasnout.
"Is that mutiny I hear?" replied a stoat captain named Burnfur.
"No..." grumbled Fleasnout.
"Good. Now pay attention."
Tharius hid behind the dunes. He jumped when he felt a paw at his shoulder.
Two hares, one male, one female, were hiding at the dune as well.
"What's a chap like you doing here?" asked the male.
Before Tharius could say anything, the hare said, "Ah, well. You got a fighter's look, wot wot! Ye need a weapon. 'ere." The hare handed Tharius a good claymore and a bow, with a parcel of arrows.
"Thank you. I'm Tharius Oakleaf."
"Like Tharius Oakleaf Squirrelprince from the south? I'm Alfar, this is Nya. We're scouts."
Tharius touched his head and closed his eyes, as if he was having a headache. "I don't remember most of my life before I became a slave, but I know the leader of the horde, and their plan. Get me to Salamandastron, and I'll tell you."
Alfar laughed. "You know their plan? Great. Let's go, wot!"
Tharius and Nya nodded.
Brawblade slammed his fist down. "Disease? Those cowardly swine. How will we defeat a disease, Dryditch, no less!"
His lieutenant, a grey-furred, mustached hare called Rig Brushfur stood rigidly (as he always did, which gained him his name), muttering angrily. "Phah! A sickness! If they great Long Patrol and its Badger Lord get brought low by a sickness..."
"What do we do?" asked Nya.
"This is different. We defeated enemies before. But they brought just brute strength. This Vafír definitely has strength, but brains too," said Brawblade sadly. "We have stood proudly for centuries, but what if–"
A horrible silence overcame them.
Suddenly memories came back to Tharius...
Memories of Castle Floret
"Run! They're here!" shouted Truffet VIII. The squirrelking was bleeding from a dozen wounds, but still fighting, until a sword pierced him through the heart.
"Papa!" called Mina, as she was carried away.
Karina, dead, Trianna, dead, Regulon, injured. The guards lay slain on the floor. Hordebeasts swarmed through the rooms, killing guards and servants. Mina's nanny, Yelana was whacking a rat with a staff in one paw and holding the three-season old Mina in the other.
Darkblood, Tharius's old friend, was standing over him. "He wants this one alive, but injure him as much as you want!" the rat called. He swung his sabre, scarring his face.
"Tharius!" called Truffet IX. The squirrel pierced Darkblood in the shoulder. The black rat ran, and Truffet went around killing at least a score of vermin before going down to his sabre.
Yelana was on the floor, bleeding from the neck. A rat was dead, his throat in her teeth and the rat's dagger in her stomach, and Mina, one so young, was dead on the floor, her small neck broken. Regulon had his skull smashed in. Tharius and Viola were the only ones left alive.
But where was Viola? Where could she be? What had–
The squirrelprincess came, followed by her pet, the snake, Fínvar. Viola ran to save her younger brother, Fínvar curled around her shoulder. The horde looked to Vafír, looking for a direction. But there was something they'd never seen before. Silvertung was frozen with fear.
Darkblood covered his leader. He swiftly stabbed Viola in the gut, and cut the head off the snake. Once Vafír unfroze, he shook his head and pointed at Tharius.
"Coldfur, Zäev, bind him. And be as rough as you can."
Tharius thought hard, trying to think what would have scared the logical Vafír so badly. A phobia that was rooted deep in his past...
Four adder heads lay on the ground; Tharius, Bluenose, and Darkblood had slain them. Vafír had not, he had been petrified by fear.
"What happened?" asked Darkblood.
Vafír shook his head. "When I was young, my parents were killed by snakes. I freeze at the sight of them. They just..." he shivered.
Bluenose nodded. "My parents were killed by adders as well. I had a phobia like you, but after going out there and fighting them, I feel better; my fear has passed. And guess what?" Bluenose smiled.
"What?" the others asked.
"I think, I'm not sure, but I think I'm free..."
Tharius smiled. Vafír was scared of snakes. He had a weakness.
Zeela the Vixen awoke with a start. She had found herself in front of Martin's tapestry. She tried to remember the dream she was having. The warrior mouse was in it. He was telling her that she and her family were to do something. What was it? She had to bring some white flowers, but nothing else?
Ah, yes! They were to follow Anera the mousemaid. But what white flowers?
She ran to the archives. The Wiltuds were there, as was Erzvin and Mervo. Mervo was in the corner, reading a leather-bound book, while Erzvin was talking with the Wiltud's son, Darrow. They looked up when the purple-cloaked vixen entered.
"I think I just got a message from Martin the Warrior," told Zeela.
Posy muttered, "Good thing Fern isn't here."
"What did he say?" asked Darrow.
"Me and my family must follow Anera... to Salamandastron. And... I need to bring some white flowers."
Uggo replied, "Then go to Salamandastron, as soon as possible. We'll send you with the Guosim. It shouldn't take too long to find them. Unless Martin told you to go alone..."
"He said I needed to bring my family, but it seemed implied I could bring others."
Mervo was very excited. "So we get to go to Salamandastron? I've read all about it! And meet the Guosim! Yes!"
Erzvin chuckled. "Do you think Martin meant the Flowers of Icetor?"
Zeela's face dropped. "I hope not. If I lost those... I mean, they've been in my family for generations. My great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Nila harvested them from the North Mountain herself. And they're incredibly valuable."
Uggo cut in. "Trust Martin. If he says bring the flowers, bring the flowers. He has his own reasons."
Darrow nodded. "Well, come on! I'll help you find the Guosim!"
As they left, Uggo handed Mervo a piece of paper. "Here. I finished translated it. Some of it was cut off, but the information is still interesting..."
They were in Mossflower woods (following Mervo's instructions to stay away from the vermin camp). They were following one of the tributaries of The Great South Stream, while Darrow called "Logalogalogalogalog! Logalogalogalog!"
Zeela rolled her eyes. "How do you expect them to hear–"
"Logalogalog!" came a voice down stream.
Darrow smiled. "That'll be them. Just wait."
Sure, enough, log boats began sailing to them, manned by short, bearded, red-headbanded shrews singing a shrew song.
One, he had the longest beard, reddest band, biggest sword, and was an inch taller than the rest. Notably, he also had the biggest smile. "Hahah! How ye doin' me old friend Darrow. And who are the foxes?" The question was ladled with mistrust.
Darrow laughed. "Relax! They're my friends. They got a message from Martin. Their names are Erzvin, Zeela, and the little 'un is Mervo. Foxes, this is Log-a-Log Trong Clogs, son of Dandy Clogs. We need you to take us to Salamandastron."
Trong laughed, "Salamandastron, hah! We'll take ye there, faster than ye can wink. However, what villain is threatening you this time?"
"A massive horde of one thousand; Salamandastron can help. But you can't sing for a stretch. A whole platoon of otters was massacred by this horde."
Trong did not laugh this time. "I'll get you there as fast as possible. Come on crew. We're going to Salamandastron!"
Tharius was dreaming.
He was at a ruined fortress. There was walls crumbling and many graves upon the ground. There largest was marked Badrang, rest in pieces! I knew ye would meet yer match! Haharr!
There was a mouse there. He had a strong build and tough jaw. He was cloaked in a green cape with a red tunic. He carried a wonderful sword, with a black hilt and and red pommel stone. The sword was spotless and keener than a razor. The mouse's eyes were little with a fierce fire, one he had seen in warriors.
The mouse lifted the sword at Tharius, and said in powerful voice; "Prince Tharius Oakleaf Squirrelprince of Southsward. The time has come for you to take back your crown from Silvertung. I am Martin the Warrior, we stand in the Fortress of Marshank. This place once represented your enemy: villainy.
"Heed my words. To save the future you must find the truth about the past. Find the reason; the root of treachery. The answer lies with one you would believe to be your enemy.
"Good luck to you, Tharius Squirrelprince. The future's fate rests in your paws."
Martin turned and left, leaving Tharius alone in the fortress, wondering what to do.
Then he awoke.
"Nya got it," said Alfar, as Tharius came down from his dorm. "First case of Dryditch. The healers are trying to help her, but there's not much we can do."
Brawblade's face was grave. He sat at the end of the table, an oatcake in front of him, but untouched. "We have to make a decision," the badger stated.
"What?" asked Rig Brushfur sharply.
"The fever will soon spread. The healers aren't feeling so well; neither is young Trav. Nya's getting worse. If we stay here, we will die."
"So... are ye saying we need to abandon ole' Salamandastron?" asked Alfar uncertainly.
Brawblade shook his head sadly. "I don't know what to do. I am following the ancient words of badger lords before me, my only guide. They say that something terrible will befall the mountain, but there will be something to pull it from the darkness. At least for a little bit."
"What if we attack the blinkin' fellahs?" asked a young hare.
"No, they outnumber us by five-hundred. We'll be slaughtered."
"What if we- no..."
"I bet they have a cure, if we get it we could get we'd be saved!" called out Alfar. His logical statement was praised.
"Who'll get, though?" asked Lieutenant Brushfur.
There was a silence. Sneaking through seven-hundred troops, guards. A squirrel could do it, or a bird, but this was a mountain full of hares...
Realization hit them all just then. Before anybody could say anything, Tharius chuckled, grabbed his weapons, and left the mountain.
A ferret called Splitfang was on guard duty with a rat called Frinch. They leaned against their spears as they watched the sun rise, and yawned in anticipation of breakfast and a nap.
Tharius waited until they turned away from each other. Then, remembering his archery lessons from Castle Floret, Tharius fired two arrows in rapid succession. The first one caught Splitfang in the neck, while the other hit Frinch in the chest. They fell, but let out a small cry. Nearby hordebeasts began to wake, and notice the dead guards.
"Attack! Attack!" called the stoat captain Earburn. The horde clumsily got on their paws and picked up their weapons. While they charged and shouted, confused, Tharius snuck around and got in a quick getup. He had always been good at disguises; he posed as a weasel.
He walked through the horde, occasionally calling out "Get those hares!" or "Fall Salamandastron!"
Tharius carefully made his way to Vafír's tent. If there was anywhere the cure was, it was there. He ducked down and started weaving around the hordebeasts to make it to the tent. He had just made it and was opening the fold when he felt a sabre at his back.
The Great South Stream
My name is Arbor Brock, Son of Iro Brock.
I was born in a time were goodbeasts and vermin lived peacefully, as one. Magic still existed, though it was weakening. We had proud empire, which was the only empire. My father was Emperor Iro Brock, and I was Prince Arbor. The empire was strong, but as it was so large, my father feared it would soon break out in revolution and war.
My father sought to ensure peace. So he gathered his best Generals, all different species. They were Garro the Great, a wolverine, Fando the Builder, a lizard, Crendo the Artisan, a toad, Fentar the Skilled, a rat, Brif the Mighty, a wildcat, Tera the Brave, a feral cat, Falton the Quick, a weasel, Temveer the Bright, a ferret, Gru the Powerful, a stoat, Miko the Allseer, a magpie, Fazwel the Wonder, a crow, Eclipse the True, a raven, Tamv the Wise, a jackdaw, Anya the Smart, a sable, Nive the Warrior, a Pine Marten, Winter the Kind, an ermine, Rordon the Fighter, an otter, Bren the Boxer, a hare, Lilac the Climber, a squirrel, and Zenlar Silvertung the Clever, a fox.
Iro had a plan. The plan would involve magic, but should keep the empire strong forever. Only Rordon, Bren, and Lilac disagreed with the plan, though they all should have.
The plan took place near the Volcano Salamandastron, among the most magical places in the world. They followed a shrew mine, and the shrews gave them their largest ruby. They built an altar, which they placed the ruby on. The spell would make all creatures of their kind somewhat like themselves, as they were all good, hardworking, and smart creatures. They placed their hands on the ruby and Zenlar conducted the spell.
But something went wrong. Zenlar tricked the others. When he cast the spell, terrible effects happened.
Toads and lizards, who were once fantastically skilled artisans, became cowardly scavengers. Black birds also became scavengers, they banded together to kill helpless beasts. Rats, Feral cats, Weasels, Ferrets, Stoats, and Ermine became ruthless killers.
Wolverines, wildcats, sables, and pine martens were only content as leaders or with a high position of command. As a result, they killed each other to be in charge, and their races almost went extinct, especially wolverines, who are not content sharing any power at all.
Badgers were affected similarly. They still remained noble beasts, but when they were roused, a massive, cruel, and deadly bloodlust can come, and it is known as a bloodwrath. Furthermore, they were often leaders for wars, which drove them to near extinction as well.
Foxes became embodiments of Zenlar, how the spell was intended. Foxes were sly, clever, smart, and cunning. They became efficient fighters as well. However, Zenlar did not foresee foxes fighting for power like the wolverines, wildcats, sables, and pine martens. It was not as severe, but fox population was quite definitely diminished.
When the spell was cast, Salamandastron ceased being a volcano, so I am carving out a fortress inside of it. I will be its lord, and I will gather troops to help defend against vermin. I have secured the altar, but the only way to end the spell would be to destroy the ruby, which seems impossible. However, I know a young rat who freed himself from the spell, he took a great emerald, which is now in my treasury, and placed it on the emerald. Somehow, the control over him went into the emerald, and he controls himself now, and his descendants are free as well.
This is my story. How vermin are so cruel, and how the fortress of Salamandastron was created.
Mervo's jaw was hanging open. The scroll answered so many things. Questions he wanted answered. If they could just destroy that ruby, lives could be saved. Creatures could choose what they wanted to do.
Before he could dwell on the subject, thunder could be heard. The shrews looked up, as did Mervo's parents and Darrow. However, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Then they heard singing.
Ooohhhh, I'm a freebeast, not a slavebeast,
Not one doing another's chores,
I'm hungry enough I could eat a whole feast,
But no matter what the food was, it'd be better than sores,
From the whip on your back! From the kicks on your knee!
For we've been slaves,
But now we're freeeeeeeee!
A horde of scrawny creatures came near the shrews' logboats.
"Sorry!" called Log-a-Log Trong Clogs. "We're full. And we need to save the abbey from some fox called Vafír–"
The horde started calling out "Death to Silvertung! Death to Silvertung! Death to Silvertung!"
An otter stepped up. "My name is Streampaw. We are the Emancipated Slaves Of The South. Call us ESOTS. We still have to free other compounds, but we'll be at the end of the Great South Stream when you did us. Goodbye friends!"
The boats floated off and the horde ran off, singing merrily.
Great South Stream Delta
Anera was following the calls.
"Hear me Silvertung!" they said. "I am Tharius, rightful heir to the south! You cannot defeat me! I will not give up and die!"
This was definitely the Squirrel Prince she was looking for. She saw a large wooden cross on the beach, gannets were circling above. Whenever one came close, he would bite and yell at them. He had a wing in his teeth. The squirrel was young, but looked older because of his haggard face, tough muscles, scruffy beard, though there was fire in his eyes Anera recognized from her dream with Martin the Warrior.
She moored the ship in the sand. She hurriedly got out and looked in dismay there were three guards. All were foxes, but one was smaller, and had white fur. He was laughing and striking Tharius's feet. She grabbed the Sword of Martin the Warrior and rashly ran at the guards, swinging. One fox ran at her, brandishing a claymore. Seconds before he struck her, a knife whizzed through the air and struck him through the chest. Moments later, Findelo Gonfelin came running from behind the dunes, throwing knives.
"Haharr! I'm the Prince of Knife-throwing, I am!" shouted the boisterous mouse.
As Findelo stabbed the other fox, the white furred one slowly started walking towards them. He was disconcerting, his confident gait, and his deadly violet eyes. Findelo threw another knife, but the fox slashed it away with his sabre. The two mice slowly started stepping back, Anera shaking and holding the Sword of Martin, while Findelo brandished his last knife.
With little hesitation, they ran back, the fox slowly following and smiling wickedly. But the mice ran around to the cross. Anera swung the sword, its blade so sharp that it severed the cross's top off.
Tharius spat out the gull wing as he fell backwards. "Aaah!" he called. Without hesitation, Findelo ran forward and cut Tharius's bonds. The squirrel got up, dusted his sand off, and took the sword, which Anera offered.
"Martin told me to give this to you," Anera said.
Tharius's annoyance at her for just running up and cutting the cross off, resulting in his fall softened. "Martin came to me too," he said.
Vafír was running now, swinging his sabre.
"Is either of you good at impressions?" asked Tharius.
"Haharr! I'm the prince of impressions, matey!"
"Good. In threescore seconds I want you to make a snake noise. No questions!"
Before Findelo could question, Tharius had ran off to duel Vafír.
It was a magnificent duel, as they were both evenly matched. Vafír lightly attacked, trying to get past the squirrel's defenses. Meanwhile, Tharius tried to get Vafír to make a slight, yet fatal, mistake.
Vafír was wearing Tharius thin. He would have won, if not for:
"Ssssss... I am Sssssssiaven Sssssickssssleep. I come for you, Ssssssssilvertung," said Findelo, though the bard, who really was the Prince of Impressions, had hid behind the dunes. "Ssssssssilvertung, let me sssssend you to ssssssleep. Eternal sssssleep..."
Vafír shuddered and backed off. Tharius delivered a ferocious onslaught, and the white fox continued to step backwards. The fox began to wade in the ocean, then ran. Only then did he realize he was too far to return to land.
Silvertung floundered about, calling for help. It seemed like Vafír would drown, and the nightmare would end.
Then Findelo came running over the dunes. "Run mateys! To the mountain! Go! A whole horde is coming!"
Vafír's army came running over the mountains as Tharius and his friends ran. Halfway to the fire mountain, Tharius looked back and saw Vafír, sopping wet but alive, being helped from the ocean. The fox was glaring malevolently out of his violet eyes.
Lord Brawblade was beginning to feel scared. He had been talking with the healers. It was not going well. Only one healer wasn't sick, and soon she'd be down. They would be at the mercy of Dryditch. A score of hares had contracted it. Four healers, two deaths overall. Young Trav, who had just past his tests and joined the Long Patrol, died of the disease, along with an old hare called Maren. The healer, Fendra, predicted that others would die soon.
Brawblade knew what they had to do. If Tharius did not arrive with cure, they would be doomed. Only if the horde was defeated would they get the cure.
He looked out the window carved in rock. To his dismay, Tharius was running, followed by two mice. Behind them was a massive horde of vermin, chasing them. He knew what he had to do.
"Brushfur! Get every able-bodied hare ready. We fight!"
Brawblade put on his helmet and chestplate. He picked up his shield, which had the symbol of Great Eagle. He hefted his great sword, Evilbane, and walked out to his army of hares, already standing at attention.
He moved aside the boulder at the entrance, letting Tharius and the mice in. Noticing Martin's sword in Tharius's paws, he praised, "Now that's a sword!"
He walked out of the mountain fortress to see the horde. It surprised him. Wild and feral cats, pine martens, even a wolverine. These would usually be the leaders. But they followed a runtish fox. Shaking off the observation, he pointed Evilbane at Vafír.
"Vafír Silvertung, scum of Southsward. I challenge you to single combat!"
The white fox seemed to smile. With a nod of his head, he said, "No armor or shields. We fight with our swords only."
Brawblade nodded and took off his helm and chestplate, then dropped his shield.
"You don't have to do this," whispered Tharius as he took the helmet. "He defeated the wolverine in-"
"I'm better than some wolverine. We could not face a horde this size. At least if I kill him, they'll break."
Tharius nodded as Vafír shouted to his horde, "You interfere, you die. No lessened punishment."
Brawblade paw dwarfed Vafír's as they shook hands. Then they turned, walked half a score of paces, and turned again, then bowed.
Then they fought.
No different from a wolverine, thought Vafír, as Brawblade charged. Just before the badger hit him, the fox dodged and slashed Brawblade's back. He ran back over, his back to the stone mountain, and red mist rose in Brawblade's eyes. The badger charged again, and the same thing happened. And again. And again. And again.
Vafír smiled. This was easy. Soon the badger would tire, and Silvertung would win. Brawblade charged, and Vafír dodged.
Then Brawblade stopped pretending. With uncanny grace he grabbed the fox as he tried to dodge. As the sabre flew from his hand, Brawblade twirled and smashed Vafír between his paw and the fortress.
The fox scrambled and gasped for breath, but there was no escaping the enveloping paw. The horde groaned in dismay and the hares cheered. Brawblade whispered, "You will die slowly, suffocating to death. Fitting."
Vafír scrambled at his pockets, trying to find something, anything that would help. A spinning top, a pair of reading spectacles, a tiny vial of oil and charred parchment with sparks for fires (obviously from different pockets), a few twigs, and other useless things.
Thinking quickly, Vafír used one paw to open the vial. Spilling it everywhere, though Brawblade hardly noticed in his bloodwrath, Vafír let it fall from his paw.
Breath left his lungs as he he through the charred parchment in the oil.
A spark lit.
Brawblade leaped back and dropped his sword as his paw lit on fire, and began to spread up his arm. Vafír dropped and rolled in the sand until the fire stopped. He scrambled at his sabre, which he picked up. He ran at the giant flaming badger and struck.
Brawblade was grabbing at him, but Vafír dodged. The badger yelled in pain as the fire enveloped him. Stabbing angrily, Vafír pierced the badger. And again. He struck until the flaming beast collapsed in the sand.
Vafír pointed his sabre at the mountain, of which a deathly silence had fallen over. Even though his fur and clothes were charred, he looked he could fight another season straight, and come out alive.
The horde called behind him, "Fast, strong, smart, skilled! Silvertung! Silvertung! Kill!"
The rock entrance was abruptly closed by Alfar. He looked sadly back at the others, and they all began to weep.
The vermin camp was getting restless. Darkblood was going to need to lead them to war.
"Captains!" he called. His seven captains, Fyron, Grimfang, Dedgutt, Redburn, Ripsnout, Rotpaw, and Griv Beastkiller came up and saluted.
"We will take the Redwall place. With no prolonged war, siege, but just one large attack that will finish them."
The captains all laughed wickedly.
"I have a plan. Formulated by Silvertung himself. "This is it..."
Two young mice, recently wedded, called Alex and Nina were throwing stones against the ground from the top of the abbey wall when they saw five wicked looking vermin, two stoats and three rats, place buckets of water against the abbey wall.
"Nina, go get Uggo and Posy from the gatehouse, quickly!" The Nina nodded and began to ran.
"What do you think your doing?" called Alex. The vermin grinned up at him and each took a large chunk of grayish material from their cloaks and held it over the buckets. Alex thought something wrong was going to happen.
Then the gray material dropped.
The gates shattered and the wood fell to the ground, almost crushing Nina. A rat and a stoat were killed, the others injured.
Then the horde came.
Five hundred charged through the walls. One, a ferret, slashed Nina's back, killing her instantly.
Howling in anger, Alex called out, "Every beast get inside!" Then leapt off the walls.
He lasted two seconds.
The horde swarmed around the grounds, cackling evilly, killing any beast that didn't make it inside in time.
"Haharr!" called Darkblood as he pierced a mousemaid trying to defend a group of dibbuns. Her body fell to the ground.
Chubbo Wiltud, Uggo and Posy's grandchild was thrown through a window into the kitchen. His mother, wife of Darrow, Jena, was dragged back by a score of rats and was stabbed to death.
Friar Durglo picked him. In his rough molespeech, he comforted the young hog as they ran to the cellars, the most secure place of the abbey.
The cellars were full of tearstained abbeydwellers. Abbess Fern was crying into her habit, Skipper had been swigging Ginger ale in the corner for a while, Cellarhog Dumblo Stump was giving everybody drinks, dibbuns huddled together, older ones weeped.
All so sad.
Uggo whacked a rat with his walking stick. Posy knocked a bookshelf over, crushing two weasels. The gatehouse was a mess as vermin attacked the ancient dwellers. Posy looked out the window. A black rat and most of the horde was walking towards the gatehouse. There was a half a score of dibbuns at bladepoint, and the other half...
Posy blew into her apron, then redoubled her efforts. She ran to the secret compartment and pulled out a small ax. She rushed forward, slashing madly. Uggo also grabbed a spear from the compartment, and stabbed at any vermin trying to enter.
Griv, Fyron, and Rotpaw, with their crews, searched the abbey. They killed anybeast that couldn't evacuate to the cellar. The halls and rooms of redwall abbey were littered with dead woodlanders. They were listening for where the others had ran off to.
"Hurry, moles!" called Cellarhog Stump. Foremole and his moles were digging out of the cellar, to escape the vermin in Redwall Abbey.
"Burr, there we go. This be a gurt tunnel. Us'ns found a cavern. Cerm on, woodlanders!"
The creatures needed no second bidding. They all hurried down the tunnel towards the underground cavern. All except Skipper.
"Come on!" called Quickflow.
"Listen mate. Yer skipper now. I'm just Tunger the otter again."
"No! We need you."
"No, ye don't. I won't be a good skipper. Too driven by hate, matey. But ye got the makings of a good skipper. Now go!" Skipper put an ear to the wall. "They're almost here. I'll close the tunnel behind ye. Go!"
Eyes tearing, Quickflow said, "Goodbye, Skipper Tunger. Your name will be remembered," then he vanished.
Tunger smiled, then kicked dirt over the tunnel until it was covered. He waited, and then the cellar doors opened, and a rat popped in.
Tunger grabbed a javelin from behind the barrels. Wordlessly he stabbed the rat through the gut. More came, and he killed them. He smashed a ferret's skull against a barrel, he sheared through a weasel's head. He lost count on those he killed once he got to a score of fighters.
"Haharr! I will kill ye all, I'll have me revenge!"
Rotpaw foolishly attacked with his cutlass. The javelin pierced his throat and the rat keeled over. Fyron was more strategic. He snuck around and behind the otter with a dagger, he was just about to strike when Tunger turned around and gutted the ferret. "Haha! Was it ye that killed her? If so, fantastic! If not, still-"
The otter got no further. True to his name, Griv Beastcrusher had smashed his skull with a mighty club.
"There's no other beasts here," said the big rat. "Let's search elsewhere."
Uggo and Posy had been battling for thirty minutes. They fought until Darkblood entered the room.
The black rat glared at his troops. "So two old hedgehogs have been holding this place against all of-" Uggo ran forward stabbing with his spear. Darkblood dodged and stabbed the hedgehog in the gut. Uggo fell to the floor, gasping. Posy howled and leaped at the rat, hacking at his arm. It was bleeding and went limp when Darkblood pierced her through the heart.
The rat turned to his vermin. "Hah! That's how easy it was. And yet we lost almost twoscore troops?" The rat laughed. The laughed ended as a spearpoint began to grow out of his chest. Blood splattered as Darkblood's green eyes became clouded with mist and the rat slumped.
Uggo fell to the floor next to Posy and let go of the spear. "Well... that was another adventure, wasn't it?" whispered the old hedgehog with his last breath.
"Aaaand... there," said Dethfur as he poured enough wolfbane in a goblet to kill a cave filled with badgers. The vermin behind him laughed wickedly. The two ferrets, Foulpaw and Scars, Searats, Crabtooth, Ripjaw, Ragburn, Oiltailh, Korvyr, Drywart, and Vyle, two stoats, Braggeye and Pluggear, three weasels,