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A figure stood, hidden by shadows despite his bright, red cloak. An unsuspecting beetle crawled up his leg, but the mysterious figure did nothing to betray himself. He simply stood, still as a rock, barely even breathing.
He watched silently, his eagle-sharp eyes missing almost nothing, even though only a fraction of Redwall could be seen through the trees. He calmly watched a hare walking along the wall tops, with an older mouse who seemed quite weak. The rumours had been true. Even though Sickblade the fox had died, the effects of his damage had affected Redwall badly.
He had come at this time everyday, watching and waiting for hours on end, creating plans and pictures in his mind. But he had made one mistake. He had waited too long. His horde, though they were afraid of him, would desert if he waited any longer. He had no choice , but to make his demands. The hares were an unwelcome development, but he was confident he could win, despite their involvement. It would take at least hundreds more to defeat him.
Still unnoticed, he simply disappeared. A moment later, there were no signs anyone had been there for at least two days.
Chapter 1 (Also called Stoneheart the Mighty)
The wind played with the cloak of Stoneheart the Mighty. He had delivered his ultimatum to the inhabitants of Redwall. He was a fearsome sight, never seen without the bark mask that depicted a snarling rat or the long cloak as a rich red as freshly spilled blood. It was a certain death sentence to see him without either. Once you saw the face of Stoneheart you died. As a consequence, no living creature, but himself, knew what kind of creature he was.
He and his band was feared throughout the land as the most vicious killers ever seen. Stoneheart strode into camp and viciously kicked out at his prisoner, an old squirrel, who was too weak to defend himself.
“So,” he jeered, “you think your precious Redwallers can defend themselves against me? They barely looked strong enough to pick up a spoon, let alone a weapon!”
The squirrel did not reply. A ferret Captain, Redfur, poked him none too gently. The old squirrel made no sign that he had felt it. Redfur then examined the squirrel's vital signs.
“He's dead, chief,” he reported. “ Starvation finished him off, probably.”
“Dead,” repeated Stoneheart. “Like those pitiful Redwallers soon will be. Throw that carcass out and hide some archers near it. Tell them to kill any bird that comes near it. And send out foraging groups. We need more supplies.”
Redfur bowed and hurried away to do as he was told. He motioned for two soldiers to pick the thin, wasted body up take it away. Stoneheart moved quietly into his tent to start thinking. He tore at a roasted fish, destroying it until it was unrecognisable for what it was. He rubbed a piece of it against his fingers several times, then picked it up and stormed outside.
"Who cooked this?” he demanded, angrily. When he received no reply. He kicked out a few vermin near him. “Who cooked this?” he demanded again.
A fox hesitantly stepped forward. “I did, yer honour.”
He grabbed the fox's ears and pulled on it none too gently. The fox began to scream loudly. Stoneheart just kept pulling harder, until the fox collapsed.
“Then learn to cook, mudbrain,” he hissed coldly. “Or next time, you will be my dinner!”
On that happy note, he went back inside his tent, still fuming. “Bunch of fools. I'm the only one in this horde that has a brain.”
Chapter 2 also called The Situation at Redwall
Several grim faces could be seen at the Gatehouse. Almost all were shouting, trying to be heard over each other. The Abbot, a small, frail, elderly mouse by the name of Aralnd, stood and called the assembled creatures to order. When he didn’t succeed, a middle-aged hare, Major Aran Fluffscutt called out.
“I say, you chaps, let’s all quiet down, wot!”
His foghorn-like voice caught their attention. The Abbot nodded gratefully to the hare before speaking his piece.
“Thank you, Major. As I was trying to say, this matter changes everything. I do not believe that we are strong enough to fight this new threat that faces us. It is not encouraging, I know, but it is the sorry truth.”
Another mouse, Sister Reladine, the Infirmary Keeper piped up shrilly. “So we’re all going to give up?!”
“I never said we were to give up,” Aralnd replied. “I was stating the truth.”
More shouting ensued. Aralnd waited for it to subside, Major cut in before he could say anything.
“All right chaps, listen up wot. Me and my hares would be failing our duty if we didn‘t defend Redwall with our last breaths,” he told them solemnly. “And we plan to do just that. I doubt that this Stoneheart chappie would just let us leave, wot wot. ”
The Gatehouse keeper-cum-recorder Bittel, the squirrel, looked confused.
“What do you mean, Major?”
“What I mean, old chap, is that this Stoneheart creature would never let any of us leave, Redwallers or not. Any commander worth his salt would stop the enemy from getting reinforcements and Stoneheart would be the same. He‘s even pitched his camps close to Redwall for that purpose,” Aran replied. “I’ve had a small meeting with the other hares and we all agree, and I hardly think that any of you Redwallers will object to that, wot! And if you do, it will be our choice on whether we want to fight or not.”
Two creatures walked through the what should’ve been the vegetable patch at Redwall. The two had been friends for a long time, united by a common fear and one that others found understandable. One of them, Arama the squirrel, shook her head in disgust.
“That Sickblade,” she told her friend, Ana, one of the visiting Long Patrol hares, “I don’t know how, but he’s managed to destroy all our crops completely. What’s more, he’s poisoned the soil, so that we can’t grow anything else on it.”
Ana bent down to study the dry dirt they were walking on. Since she was an expert on gardening and farming, the Redwallers had asked her to examine it and help them. She sniffed a bit of it lightly. It smelled odd. Like roses and dung mixed together, almost. She poked around at it a few times and finally looked up.
“It’ll wash out,” she told Arama confidently. “With a lot of rain. Not just a little, though. We would need a massive storm. So what’s the deal with this Sickblade chappie, wot?”
Arama sighed. “It was not that long ago,” she began. “It will be two months tomorrow. Sickblade and his horde arrived here and like other warlords, Sickblade wanted to capture Redwall. He decided to weaken us by killing our crops and poisoning the soil. The beast who had sneaked in here was caught before they could harm the water, thank goodness. Anyway, we won and only one from the horde was left alive. That was Sickblade’s daughter Pilytunia. They never cared much for each other and she was a gentle beast. We offered her a home at Redwall, but she refused and decided to become a traveller. We never saw her after that, but I’m sure she’s alive and happy somewhere.”
There was a quiet pause.
“ Is it true that we can’t get word to Salamandastron?” she asked Ana finally.
Ana nodded grimly. “No creature could get out of here. Stoneheart has kept his camps too close to Redwall for that. Not even some speedy hare can run through the enemy lines and make it out. I’ve seen them for myself and only a something really tiny, pretty much unnoticeable and speedy can make it out.”
“I can help if you want,” a strange voice told them gently.
The maids caught sight of the creature who had spoken and both screamed.
Chapter 3: The Fate of the Deserters
Stoneheart’s eyes glittered savagely as he surveyed the scrawny, trembling weasel in front of him. The weasel, his spy Tartfur, was obviously terrified. He gulped as his mysterious master stood up and looked down at him.
“I knew something like this was being planned,” Stoneheart spoke after a long silence, almost to himself. “That traitor will get his just desserts. And so will you, my faithful spy.” Tartfur started whimpering slightly. He knew about Stoneheart’s unstable moods and, to him, he seemed too calm.
“Do not worry. Nobeast will know that conversation ever happened.” Stoneheart handed the spy a glass of wine. “I still need you to spy on your fellows… for now.” He dismissed the cowardly weasel and turned to his advisor, Tanu, a vixen younger, but wiser than others in the massive horde.
“Well?” He asked her bad temperedly. “What now vixen?”
“The answer seems obvious to me, my lord. We must make an example of the troublemakers.”
“I know that,” he screamed in rage. “But, Redfur is so popular within the horde. If I slay him will that not cause more mutiny?”
Tanu smiled wickedly. “Not if you let him and his followers escape. And those too afraid to leave lost something precious to them. Then you can tell the others that the deserters stole from their former comrades before they escaped. This will make them think that you truly care for your army and make the deserters seem untrustworthy.”
Stoneheart caught on quickly. Then he found the flaw and glowered at the vixen. “How will we be able to plant the stolen possessions on them?”
“I have my ways, lord.”
Redfur and the other deserters stood before Stoneheart and the horde. Of the many that had left, only a few remained. The rest had deserted the deserters to rejoin the army or been killed by those that had hunted them down.
Stoneheart shook his head pityingly at the small band in front of him.
“Why any of you would choose to desert, I do not know. But why you would choose to follow him,” he added, pointing at the snivelling ferret. “I could never imagine.”
“And not only did you betray your comrades, you also stole from them! As your punishment, you shall all be killed by the hands of your former friends and comrades. All except you Redfur. I have a special punishment for you in mind. Take him to the prison tent,” he ordered two burly weasels.
As the horde jumped on the small pitiful band, he gestured for Tanu to follow him into the tent.
“How did you do it, vixen?” he asked bluntly.
Tanu grinned viciously, as she answered. “I simply placed some in the band who were loyal to you. They hid the stolen possessions among the deserters, then changed their minds about leaving.”
As Stoneheart dismissed the crafty vixen, he did not see the satisfied expression that took over her face. She was slowly weakening the horde from within!
Chapter 4: The Stranger Revealed
Both Ana and Arama were petrified and speechless with fright, as they had been for over an hour. Sister Reladine straightened up as she delivered her verdict.
“Something seems to have scared them badly,” she mused. “But that doesn’t tell us much as we already knew that. We also knew they were both arachnophobes, but we always make sure there are very few spiders in the Abbey!”
Skipper, a solid and sensible otter pitched in his opinion, “Not in the orchard! We could hardly control how many spiders were in the orchards and even without much plants, there are plenty of places a spider could hide.”
Abbot Aralnd sighed, “Even so, they are never this scared of a spider. We will have to try asking them one they recover. When will that be, Sister?’
Reladine shrugged. “It’s hard to tell,” she told them gravely. “It may be in a few hours or never at all.”
“Let’s hope it’s in a few hours,” Fluffscutt said wearily. “Let’s also hope it’s not one of the enemy’s tricks, wot!”