Redwall, Book 7
V2.0 There were lots of scanning errors; doubtless many remain. Chapter headings before 10 missing.
Storm-bruised clouds, heavy and lowering, dropped teeming rain into the howling March wind, slanting in from the northwest to batter the last of winters snow that clung to the stones of Redwall Abbey. Inside the gatehouse it was snug and warm, though there was not much room. All the available chairs and floor space had been taken up by little creaturesmoles, mice, squirrels, and hedgehogs. They watched in silence as an ancient squirrel, silver haired and bent with age from long seasons, banked up the fire with two beech logs. He turned slowly and, shooing two very young mice from his armchair, the aged squirrel sat, a twinkle in his eye as he watched his audience.
“Sit still, be good, my Dibbunsthe special breakfast will soon be here. Listen for the knock now; my ears dont work very well these days.
The little ones, who were collectively known as Dibbuns, cupped paws about their ears, listening intently. All that could be heard was the spattering rain on the windows and the wind mourning its dirge around the outside walls. The knock came upon the door like a spell being broken. A bass-voiced molebabe stood up shouting, “Hurr et be, brekkist!
Several of the young ones had to force the door open against the gale. A fat old hedgehog backed himself inside, pulling a trolley loaded with a cauldron, wooden bowls, and spoons. No sooner was he inside than the wind whipped the door shut with a loud slam. Shaking rainwater from his venerable gray spikes, the hedgehog lifted the cauldron lid. A delicious aroma from the steaming vessel caused cries of delight. He wiped the corners of his eyes on a spotted kerchief and winked at his companion in the armchair.
“Pearl Queen Pudden, messmatenothin like it on a cold wet day. Come on, me little mateys, pass these bowls n spoons around while its still nice an hot.
All that could be heard was the scrape of spoon upon bowl as they sat eating breakfast. The ancient squirrel finished his portion and ruffled the ears of a mouse sitting on the chair arm. “You enjoying that, Jerril?
The little mouse licked his spoon. “Pearl Queen Pud-dens nice. Whats in it?
“Ask my mate. He made it.
The old hedgehog cleared the Dibbuns from his armchair on the other side of the hearth and sat down chuckling, his huge stomach shaking like a bowl of jelly. “Hohohoh! Ill tell ye whats in Pearl Queen Pudden, young Jerril. Anythin a beast can lay his paws on. Apples, nuts, berries, plums, an memories, lots o memories. Aint that right, messmate?
The squirrels eyes shone as he gazed into the fire.
“Aye, thats right. Memories. Long seasons gone an high old summers that never fade from our minds.
The bass-voiced molebabe looked up from his second helping. “Do that mean ee goin to tell usns a tale, zurr? he asked.
“Well, theres nothing else tdo in weather like this, said the ancient squirrel, as he put aside his bowl and spoon. “Aye, Ill tell you a story, but my mate will have to help me out in parts, because its a very long tale.
Jerril was licking his bowl, but he popped his head out to say, “Did yer make it up, sir?
The squirrel shook his grizzled head vigorously. “Make it up? Indeed not. No, young feller, this story is true. Tis not just my story; it belongs to many creatures. 1 gathered their own bits from each one of em.
The hedgehog in the armchair opposite nodded. “Aye, though it wouldve never happened but for one, a mouse called Joseph the Bellmaker, for the dream was his.
Outside, the rain flattened young grass and the wind rattled leafless branches that were trying hard to put out small buds. A delicately thin icicle tinkled from the gatehouse roof, like the last tear of winter. Inside, the ruddy firelight gleamed on the young faces, each one watching the ancient squirrel as he leaned forward and began the story.
Book One: The Dream
It is said that in the hungry land of ice and snow from whence he came the beast was known and feared by the names he had taken. Fox wolf! The Urgan Nagru!
He and his mate, Silvamord, commanded a vast horde of savage gray rats. They ravaged the northlands unopposedtundra, forest, and mountain lay under the claws of Nagru and his vixen. But the Foxwolf knew there was one enemy he could never defeat, one foe more ruthless than any living thing. Winter!
Snow, ice, howling blizzards, and famine were the real rulers of the country he had despoiled, a bone-chilling starkness that conquered all. Nagru and Silvamord were forced to yield, realizing that starvation and death stalked the country they had stripped bare. So it was that Nagru took Silvamord and all the horde in three great ships to search for the sun.
Those were the dangerous seasons. Battered across dark, roaring seas they went, narrowly dodging huge floating ice mountains, the ships sails and riggings frozen stiff with rimy spray. Sometimes they lay becalmed in ghostly latitudes, wreathed in spectral mists with the waters beneath them still and fathomless. Completely lost, the Foxwolf plowed onward, driven across trackless wastes where no vessels bow had ever cut spray, avoiding leviathans of the deep and shoals of unnamed sea-beasts. Strange, hostile waters closed over their wake as the weary convoy sailed deeper into the unknown.
Then one morning the lookouts saw that the seas were gentler. Small fish swam playfully alongside the wave-scoured hulls, and the weather turned fair. Gazing upward, the eyes of Foxwolf beheld fleecy white clouds with sun peeping between them. Looking out to the horizon, he saw the thin green-brown line of land. The Foxwolf threw back his head and howled triumphantly.
He had defeated the wide, wintry seas. Silvamord joined him on deck, and together they bayed their defiance at the blue spring sky. Roaring and screeching, the gray rat horde thronged decks and rigging to cheer their leaders. It was a curious sight: three big, battered ships, swarming with thin, wild-eyed creatures, tattered sails flapping above creaking decks as they rode the ingoing swell toward shore. And so it was that Urgan Nagru came to the far south!
The land lay like a dream out of time under the spell of early spring. Southsward! A soft, peaceful region of plenty that had never felt the cruel breath of war. Stowing the three ships up a heavily wooded creek, Nagru waded ashore with Silvamord and their ragged, murderous followers. Lean from hunger and privation, eager for loot and conquest, they pressed hurriedly inland. The time of the Foxwolf had come to Southsward!
From his vantage point on a wooded hilltop, Rab Stream-battle gazed across the valley to Castle Floret. The otter had watched and planned almost every day as spring passed into summer. Castle Floret stood atop a high flat plateau, its north side abutting the sheer cliff face. The castles other three sides were surrounded by a crescent-shaped moat. A mighty drawbridge commanded almost a third of the front south side, and at this edge the plateau had a long flight of broad steps carved into the living rock from top to valley floor.
Rab stared sadly at his old home. It resembled a beautiful forgotten cake left standing on the green-clothed tableland. Against a sky of dusty blue, cream-colored towers shimmered beneath quaint, circular red-tiled roof-caps. Dark green ivy and golden saxifrage flourished amid the crenellations. Campion and climbing roses burgeoned carelessly over windowsills and framed doors. The hot afternoon did not contribute the slightest breeze to ruffle the variegated pennants draped idly around tall flagpoles.
Rab dismissed the dreamlike qualities of his old home, riveting his worried brown eyes on the window alongside the drawbridge top. Had something gone wrong? Did Nagru know of the escape that had been planned? His friends, Gael Squirrelking, Queen Serena, and little Truf-fen, had they received the message from Relph the blackbird? The otter clutched his bow tightly, staring at the window, awaiting the signal as thoughts raced through his troubled mind.
Why, oh why, had Gael not listened to him? Rab recalled the day he had first argued with his friend. The quarrel had become furious and bitter and had ended with Gael ordering his old friend either to curb his tongue or leave the castle. Stone-faced, Rab stalked angrily out of Floret, taking the entire otter castle guard with himnot because he feared Nagru, but because he could see the evil that Gael was blind to.
Rab hated and loathed the cunning Foxwolf with an intensity that banished all fear. Now his friend the Squir-relking and his family were prisoners in their own home. The wickedness of Nagru was a specter that would soon blight the whole of Southsward. Gael should have heeded the warnings Rab had issued, but instead he chose to play the king and offer the Foxwolf hospitality.
Suddenly, Rabs eye caught a flutter of iridescent blue-black wings carrying a scrap of red cloth to the window by the drawbridge.
Rab Streambattle notched an arrow to his bowstring.
The escape was on!
The sun hung like a hot merciless eye, watching two small creatures huddled in the shade of a shale outcrop on die wasteland floor. The mousemaid Mariel of Redwall shook an empty flask over the outstretched tongue of her friend Dandin. Two single drops fell slowly, then no more.
“Put your tongue away, she said, sadly. “The sun will think were mocking him.
The young mouse nodded skyward as he withdrew his parched tongue. “Huh, hes been mocking us for the last week.
They both sat staring at the empty flask. Mariel gently kicked her slack haversack. “Two stale oatcakes in there. Dyou fancy one?
Dandin smiled ruefully. “No thanks. Theyre the two you said youd keep as a memento of Redwall Abbey. Its four seasons since we left thereId break every tooth in my head trying to chomp on them. Besides, Im too dry to eat. Whew, its too hot even to talk!
Mariel closed her eyes, settling back into the shade. “Sleep then; well carry on tonight when it gets cooler.
Dandin lay down clasping his paws behind his head and called out to the sun, “Did you hear that? Were going to sleep, turn the heat down a bit, will you!
Mariel opened one eye. “Get to sleep, thirstygut, she said.
Dandin closed his eyes. There was a moments silence, then he began talking aloud to himself. “Itll be teatime back at the Abbey now. I bet I know what theyll be having, too. Cold strawberry cordial from deep in the cellars, October ale, dark and cool in foaming tankards. Probly mint tea as well, icy cold, brewed since dawn, clear and fragrant, just right for sipping on a hot day like ...Yowch!
Mariel brandished the haversack over her friend. “One more word and Ill let you have it again!
“Cant hear you, old mouseypaws, Dandin said as he flopped against her, rolling his eyes comically. “Youve knocked me senseless with those two oatcakes in there.
“Good. Perhaps youll be quiet now.
“Quiet? I havent said a single word!
“Right, then Ill say a single word. Goodnight!
“Dont you mean good afternoon?
“I mean goodnight, or Ill brain you with this haversack!
“Oh, righto. Goodnight!
Mariel woke in darkness. Warned by her warrior instinct, she lay motionless. Somebeast was trying gradually to sneak the haversack out from under her head. It was not Dandinshe could hear his snores drifting gently up to the canopy of the star-strewn night. As the final corner of their supply bag eased slowly away, she sprang into action. Slamming a footpaw hard on the haversack, she prevented the thief from making off with it. In the dim light, Mariel could make out a small, fat figure scurrying off into the wasteland. Snatching one of the two ancient oatcakes from the bag, the mousemaid hefted it like a discus, yelling as she flung it.
It struck edge on, right between the robbers ears. He dropped in a heap. Dandin leaped up, still half asleep, his paws waving.
“More October ale there! Wha ... Who ... Mariel!
As she ran toward the felon, the mousemaid was yelling, “I knew those oatcakesd come in usefulgot the blaggard!
Dandin followed, rubbing sleep from his eyes. When he arrived upon the scene, Mariel was kneeling crestfallen over her quarry. “Oh dear, whatve I done? she wailed. “Hes only a little un!
It was a small hedgehog. Dandin stooped to feel the big bump in the center of its head.
“Middle of the night, running target, great shot Id say.
Mariel turned on him, her eyes brimming with tears. “Oh, Dandin, how could you say that. Id never have thrown at such a little feller intentionally. But it all happened so quickly, I couldnt see who it was.
Dandin picked up the oatcake and chuckled. “Not to worrylook, the little rogues coming around fine. Haha, this is a true Redwall missile. See, theres not even a mark on it!
The small hedgehog sat up slowly, gingerly pawing his head. He blinked at them and said, “Ooh! Where be I? Wot appened?
Before Mariel could answer, Dandin chipped in, “You tripped and bumped your head, old lad.
Glaring at Dandin, the little beast bristled. “Me name dont be oF lad. I be Bowly Pintips, an Ill thank ee to address I proper!
Dandin adopted a look of mock fear and bowed respectfully. “Accept my humble apologies, Your Royal Bowlyness!
Bowly snatched the oatcake and brandished it. “See this ere rock as I tripped over? Well, you make sport o me, an Ill biff ye with it! Wots yore names? Speak up now afore I loses me temper with ye both!
The hedgehogs impudence caused Mariels mood of pity to vanish instantly. She grabbed Bowly firmly by his nose, pulling him up on tippaw, and said, “Listen to me, you cheeky little robber. Im Mariel of Redwall and this is Dandin. Were both warriors. So keep a civil tongue in your head, or well give you two more lumps to go on top of the one youve already got!
Tears streamed from Bowlys eyes as his nose was squeezed. “Yowow! Leggo ob be doze, yore hurtig bee!
Mariel released him and he groveled in the sand, rubbing at both bump and snout. The mousemaid nodded as she sat by him.
“Thats better. Now, whats a little snippet like you doing out in the wastelands all alone? Wheres your mum n dad?
Bowly shrugged glumly. “Never ad none as I cd remember. Two weasels ad me catchered south of ere, made me slave for em, tied me to a post at nights, but I scaped an mimed away.
Dandins friendly face grew grim. “How far south are these two weasels, Bowly? he asked.
“About arf a nights march from ere. I only scaped just afore dark, Mister Dandy.
“My names Dandin, not Mister Dandy, said Dandin, pawing the long dagger at his belt. “These two weasels, have they got food and drink?
“O aye, they got vittles aplenty. Robs travelers, they do.
Mariel had retrieved the haversack. She knotted the carrying ropes together, exchanging a slow smile with Dandin. “Lets go and pay these two weasels a visit, she said.
The sand and shale were still warm from the days heat, but the night air was cool as the three creatures strode south. Bowly Pintips giggled aloud when Dandin explained their plan to him.