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Prologue




Birds stopped singing, crickets ceased chirping. A sense of evil and foreboding filled the dark shadowy forest. The creatures of the woods had witnessed a terrible deed. A tribe of squirrels had been attacked by a horde of rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, and foxes led by a single wildcat. The vermin enjoyed the slaughtering immensely, killing everybeast, even little ones. Then they set fire to the homes and threw the bodies into the flames. �




A young female wildcat smirked as she watched tongues of fire consume an old village. Her emerald eyes glinted cruelly in the firelight when she remembered the squirrels' screams. They had all been fast asleep, nice and cozy in their warm beds. Well, now they would never have to worry about getting a good night's rest ever again, she made sure of that. Those silly squirrels suffered a long and painful death. The wildcat turned and addressed the assembled soldiers. "Well, those fools learned their lesson. Onward, to our next victims." �


The horde cheered and sprinted off through the trees with bloodlust in their eyes, eager to kill.



A squirrelmaid, hardly older then a Dibbun, stared after them. She felt sadness well up in her and burst out crying. No more would she see her family and friends. They were gone now, gone forever. The little squirrel shuddered as she recalled the attack.




Flashback




A squirrelmum sat on a rocking chair mending dresses and tunics in a comfy wooden house, humming softly to herself. Her ears pricked at the sound of tiny paws pattering across the floor and whimpering. The squirrelmaid flung herself into her mother's arms wailing. "I hadded a ba' dweam, Momma."


Her mother hugged her and rocked back and forth. "Ssshhh, it was only a dream, dear. Do you want to tell me what it was about?" �


The maid sniffed. "Some ba'beasts came an' makeded our home a fire an' they...they...Wahahahahaha!"


The squirrelmum cradled her. "There, there, it's alright. How would you like a lullaby to chase away your dream?"


She nodded eagerly. "Yes, pwease, Momma."


Singing softly, the mother serenaded her child.




''"In the morning, the morning, the morning, �



''Midst leaves of great trees,



''Small birds do sing, do sing, do sing,



''Their song carries on the breeze.



''"Brooks gaily babble, babble, babble,



''Flowing into a stream, �



''Filled with small fishes, fishes, fishes, �



''Trout, pike, and bream.



''"In the evening, the evening, the evening,



''The light begins to die,



''Sun goes to sleep, sleep, sleep,



''Stars twinkle in the sky.



''"So hush, little baby, baby, baby, �



''And drift into a slumber,



''Don't wake till the dawn, till the dawn, the the dawn, �



''Then I'll pick for thee a small yellow flower."






The babe dozed in her mother's arms. The squirrelmum smiled at her little daughter. Suddenly, screams and war cries broke the quiet of the night. The tiny squirrel's eyes popped open. Her mother crept cautiously to the window and gasped. She turned before the maid could see what was happening. She put her down and asked urgently. "Can you go through that window and get away from here through the trees as fast as you can?"


The squirrelmaid looked puzzled. "Why, Momma, wha-"


Her mother cut her off. "Don't ask questions! Can you do it? Yes or no."


"Yes, bu-" �


She was pushed out the opening before she had a chance to finish. "Then get out of here, dear!" �


Scrambling into the trees, she swung away. Glancing back when she heard a shrill shriek, the maid gazed in horror at her mother's body lying at the feet of a tall wildcat. �




End of Flashback



Climbing down from the elm she had been hiding in, the squirrelmaid watched her drey burn, tears blurring her vision. She wept for her parents, brothers, grandparents, and playmates who were slain so ruthlessly. She was unable to understand how one could find pleasure in killing other living creatures. Wiping a paw across her eyes, she let out a long shuddering sigh. Looking up, the maid cast a final glance at her home, and then scurried up into the trees leaving all she had ever known behind.





Chapter One




Snowflakes drifted down from the gray sky, falling on the rigid brown earth. Icicles hung from trees' branches. Here and there snowdrops bloomed, for they are the only flower which can survive in winter. Streams had frozen, birds had flown south. All the creatures who lived in this freezing land were snug in their homes. All, that is, except one. A squirrelmaid of about twelve seasons wandered through the Northlands with only a thin, ragged cloak to protect her from the cold. Her deep blue eyes gazed in awe at the dancing flakes of snow, wondering how something so beautiful could make her so cold. Her walnut fur and light brown paws contrasted against the snow nicely. The maid's one and only weapon was a sling with which she had extreme talent. She noticed a soft, yellow light not far from were she stood. The squirrelmaid crept stealthily over to it and found the window of a cottage. She peeped through to see a hedgehog family gathered around a fire, sipping steaming cups of cider. She made her way over to a huge, oaken door and hesitated. Then, the maid knocked and called out in a sweet musical voice. "Hello! Anybeast care to let a freezing squirrel in? It's cold out here ya know!" �


She heard heavy pawsteps and a moment later a kindly hogwife opened the door. As soon as she saw the shivering squirrelmaid she invited her in. "Och, ye poor wee lassie, come in oot o' the cold. Matt we have company!"


The hogwife instantly hurried the squirrel into the living room and sat her down with a mug of cider, then introduced her family. "Weel naow, Ah am Spinia, this is mah hoosban' Matt, and our wee babbies, Quillia and Melina. Naow, who are ye? And if ye'll excuse mah askin', whit's a wee maid like yoreself doin' wanderin' aboot in this weather? Don't ye have a family?" �


The maid settled deeper into her chair. Not wanting to go into detail with her tale, she told it simply. "My name is Pinedance. My family was slain ten seasons ago by a wildcat, Esmeralda the Dirk." Her eyes grew hard and she spat out the name "Esmeralda". "Ever since then I have been wandering, gaining fighting experience, and getting information about her and her horde." Pinedance turned to Matt. "Do you know anything about Esmeralda?"


He shook his grizzled head. "No, sorry lassie. Ah've ne'er heard aboot her afore. But ye can't leave yet, jus' look at yon blizzard."


The squirrel looked out the window. "You're right. I'll stay till it clears. Do you want help with anything? I might as well earn my keep."


Melina threw herself on the unsuspecting Pinedance. "Sing us a lullaby! Pleease!"


Pinedance smiled. "Sure. It would be my pleasure." �


Her lovely voice sang softly to the babes. �



''"In the evening, the evening, the evening, �



''Light begins to die, �



''The sun goes to sleep, sleep, sleep,



''Stars twinkle in the sky.




''"Hush, little baby, baby, baby,



''Drift into slumber,



''Don't wake till dawn, till dawn, till dawn,



''And then I'll pick for thee a small yellow flower."�




Melina and Quillia were snoring softly even before she finished. Spinia picked them up and turned to put them in bed. Matt thanked the squirrelmaid. "Thanks, lassie. Naow, would ye like tae get some sleep? Or are ye going tae sit there staring oot the window all night?"


The maid laughed quietly. "Hahahaha. Of course I would." �


He took her to a room and grinned as he watched her dart around. "A real bed! Windows, a fireplace, pillows, and blankets! Wow! How can I ever thank you?!" �


He answered. "Och, nae thanks nessacery or what ever that word is. Stay as long as ye want!" �




Later that night, Matt and Spinia sat watching the fire die. Matt turned to his wife. "Ah tell ye, Spinia, something tells me yon squirrel is bound tae achieve things we would think impossible." �




Far from the cold and snowy Northlands, within the tranquil, green terraces of Mossflower Woods, lay the Abbey of Redwall. The massive abbey towered above the trees. Orchards, gardens, flower beds, and a pond were surrounded by thick walls. The crystal windows reflected the sunlight and sparkled like diamonds. The majestic, red sandstone was like a ruby midst emeralds. Flying buttresses, towers, arches, and stained glass windows made it all the more magnificent. Anybeast who lived there was indeed very fortunate. �


Inside the gatehouse, which was full of books, scrolls, and dust, a stern old mouse named Sister Senna was at her wits end. She happened to be the Dibbuns teacher and often wished some other beast had been chosen for the job. The Abbeybabes hardly paid any attention to what she said, doodled all over their lessons, whispered to each other, and were always late. She made yet another attempt to get the Dibbuns attention. "Silence, all of you or ‘tis a bath, no supper, and bed for the lot of you!" �


All chatter ceased at this threat. The babes sat up straight and stared at Sister Senna. She allowed herself a slight smile.” Thank you. Now who can tell me who the first abbess of Loamhedge was?"


The old mouse's austere stare swept over the Dibbuns. A tiny hedgehog raised his paw. "H'is i' Abbess Syvertirus, Sis Sen?" �


The sister nodded. "Yes, Thistleback, that is correct. The first abbess of Loamhedge was Abbes Sylvaticus. Very good today, Dibbuns. Dismissed."


The Abbeybabes charged out of the gatehouse and ran to the pond where they could paddle about and have a water fight. They rushed into the shallows and instantly started splashing each other. Sending sheets of water over one another, the Dibbuns shouted as they played. �


"Taka dat!"


"Yurr, glub, don't splasher oi in ee face."


"'Ey dat wasen' fair, Tera. You can't t'row wet sand!" �


"Hah! Who says I can't?"


Amidst the chaos, two otter kits swam out farther then the rest giggling.


"Us'll catch a huge fish, twice the size of the Abbey!" �


"Hoho, yes we will. And Skip'll make uz memers of 'is crew!" �




Inside the abbey, a young male mouse of about sixteen seasons rushed to the kitchens. He rolled his eyes as he tripped for only the hundredth time that day. Muttering, he grabbed the hem and continued on his way. "Humph, I wish these robes weren't so long. If only Abbess Germaine was still alive!"


In his haste, Father Abbot Tim bumped into a very fat old squirrel. The squirrel shook his head at the youngster. "Indeed to goodness, I thought that that you had learned that haste makes waste, Father."


Tim retorted. "Yes, yes, I do know that. But I'm young, Friar Barkjak."


The chubby Friar just smiled. "You'll learn eventually. Now, what brings you to the kitchens?"


Abbot Tim looked around Redwall's kitchens. Dried herbs hung over mixing bowls, cooking utensils, and ingredients which stood on the tables. Trolleys were next to the ovens, always ready to carry hot dishes into Cavern Hole. The wonderful smells of baking breads, scones, pasties, farls, and other detectible foods wafted out the door. Cooks bustled around, seemingly never stopping for a break. �


He turned to Friar Barkjak. "I came to ask if you and some others could bring lunch out to the orchard."


The squirrel Friar grinned. "The Dibbuns'll enjoy that for sure. Don't worry, Father, I'll make sure we manage." �


The Abbot thanked him then dashed off. Barkjak sighed. "Ah, the energy of the young. I wish I still had it."




Extract from the writings of Sister Primrose.




Ah me, the seasons pass by so quickly now. It seems like only yesterday old Abbess Germaine was ruling over our Abbey. But alas, she passed away two winters ago. Before she died, the old mouse appointed young Brother Tim to the lofty position of Father Abbot of all Redwall. It came as a surprise to some of us, Tim can be very impudent sometimes. Though if there is an argument, he will step in and stop it even though he has his fair share of fights too.


Gonff and Columbine have another member in their little family, a tiny mousemaid named Daffodil. She is such a pretty baby, always gooing and cooing. Gonff, son of Gonff, is growing into a fine young mouse, though he inherited his father's thieving ways. Like father, like son, they say and I could not agree more.


For the last couple seasons it has been very peaceful, but Skipper and Lady Amber wonder how long it will last. They always have been very warlike and eager for a good fight. Being a peace-loving otter, I never understood this.



Oh! I must tell you before I stop my recording, today is the Nameday feast! The Dibbuns are very excited, they have been asking ten times a day for weeks now: "When's a Nameday gonna bes?"


Speaking of Dibbuns...



Sister Primrose hurriedly washed the ink from her paws and put her recording items in a pile. The beautiful otter lady dashed out of the orchard, yelling. "Dibbuns get out of the pond! Wavefoam, Shell, came back to shore this very instant! There are graylings in there!"


Wavefoam and Shell started swimming for the shallows, grumbling mutinously.

"Humph, dont' care 'bout grayerlings. They couldn't stan' up to uz. Why do we alerways get bossered 'round?" �


"Yeah, uz always get bossed 'bout. It's not fair."



Primrose saw a flash a silvery-purple scales beneath the surface. She increased her speed running even faster then before.




Skipper strode jauntily toward the pond for his regular morning swim. Hearing the commotion, he hurried over. The brawny otter chieftain Primrose running to the water and the Abbeybabes playing in the shallows. He did not understand why the sister seemed so upset. Then he saw the grayling and the kits. �




The little kits had seen the grayling and speed for shore, but the fish leisurely went faster, knowing its prey wasn’t fast enough to escape. The otter babes screamed. �


"Sissa Pwimwose, Sissa Pwimwose, 'elp uz!"


"'Urry, Sis! The big fish is gonna eat uz up!" �


Skipper and Primrose dove into the pond at the exact same time. Skipper Warthorn streaked toward the grayling. He whacked it on its head with fish rudder and hit it with a huge paw. The fish retaliated by biting down hard on the otter's footpaw and thwacking away with its tail. Skip growled and struck out with his forepaws and rudder-like tail. By now, there were ribbons of blood in the water, both the otter leader's and the grayling's. Skipper kicked the fish repeatedly on the jaw. It was forced to let go.


Meanwhile, Sister Primrose grabbed the kits and darted away. Wavefoam and Shell shrieked with excitement, now that they were out of danger they thought it was all a game. "Weee, fasta, Sissa, fasta!"


Skipper broke away from the fish and swam after them, hindered by his paw. The Sister put the babes down, they ran off shouting to raid the strawberry patch. Primrose smiled gratefully at Skipper. "Thank you for distracting that fish. I never would have been able to fight the fish and rescue the Dibbuns at the same time. It was a very brave thing to do."


Skipper blushed and stared at the golden sand as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world. "’Twas nothing, Sister."


She glanced at his bleeding paw. "You're injured! Come on, I'll help you to the Infirmary. Sister Ferndew will now how to treat that." �





Far from the sunny, peaceful Abbey of Redwall, to the northeast amidst the cruel cold of a blizzard, lay an old, rotting timber citadel. At one time it had been a sturdy, oak fortress, but as the seasons wore on it began to weaken. The once tall and magnificent building was attacked by termites. Slowly, ever so slowly, it started leaning. Though one could not see it tilt from the outside, one could most certainly feel it within.


Two weasels made their way over to the barracks, chatting to each other. �


"Huh, fortress. I'd call it an old wreck rather then a fortress."


"Yeah, I tell ya, mate, and one day it'll fall down on our 'eads! You mark my words." �


"Seems like all we ever do now is guard duty.’Ave ya noticed that the food stocks are runnin' out? We'll starve if we stay 'ere much longer." �


"All of us'll starve. With the exception of Queen Esmeralda, of course." �


"She gets all the food. It ain't fair, mate." �


They jumped at as a voice spoke from behind them. "Wrong. Milady makes sure everyone gets the same amount. Should I tell her what you just said?"


A tall, lithe fox with half an ear missing stepped out of the shadows. The weasels stood trembling. They answered the fox together. "N-n-no, Cap'n Halfear." �


The captain questioned them. "Do you have anything to report?"


"No, it’s all quiet out there." �


Halfear dismissed them. "Go on to the barracks and get two others to replace you." �


"Yessir!"





A tall female wildcat paced in a once grand chamber. Emerald eyes narrowed and the black-banded tail twitched impatiently. Amber fangs could be seen though her mouth remained closed. Wickedly sharp claws tapped yellowish-gray arms. On either side of her belt were two silver emerald-studded dirks. She wore a soft red silk dress with a black belt studded with diamonds. She snorted as she thought of her parents, Gingevere and Sandingomm. Old softies. Her siblings, Mort and Belle, too. Imagine, being friends with woodlanders! Whatever, they were of no concern to her. And Tsarmina getting killed by a mere mouse! Tchah, stupid cat.


The wildcat turned when she heard pawsteps approaching. A moment later, a loud knock sounded on the door. She called in a voice sweet as honey, yet deadly as an adder's bite. "Come in." �


Captain Halfear opened the door, bowing, he addressed his mistress. "You sent for me, Milady Esmeralda?"


Esmeralda rolled her eyes. "Of course, is there any other fox here named Captain Halfear, addlebrain? Now, I want you to send out some patrols. Have them search for a likely spot to build or make a new fortress. This one is far too old and wobbly. Make sure that there are villages nearby. I'll need slaves."


Halfear nodded. "I'll do it straight away, Milady!"�




Chapter Two






Pinedance awoke with a jolt. Quillia and Melina were jumping on her bed. "Naow, its time tae wake up, sleepyhead." �


She grumpily turned over and pulled the sheets over her head. "Just five more minutes. Go 'way." �


Quillia shook her spiky paw at the squirrelmaid. "Ef ye sleep anymore ye'll miss breakist." �


The squirrel sat up. "Breakfast! Why didn't you say so? I'm famished!" �


Pinedance, Melina, and Quillia raced to the table. Though Pinedance was obviously the fastest, she let the babes win. The squirrelmaid pretended to be exhausted. "Hah...hah...hah...My, you two sure are fast!"


Spinia hid a smile. "Och, whit have Ah told ye aboot runnin' in the house?" �


The hogmaids exchanged an ashamed glance, but did not reply.


Spinia chuckled. "Ach, why the lawng faces? It's okay. Naow, eat afore your breakfast gets cold."



Oat farls, raspberry cream scones, steaming porridge, and hot tea were passed from paw-to-paw. The squirrelmaid bit into a scone and her eyes widened in delight. "Oh, wow! It's wonderful! What is it?"


Matt could not suppress a roar of laughter. "Hahahahahaha! That's a raspberry cream scone, lass. Ye can take some with ye when ye leave if ye want." �


She nodded eagerly. "Thanks! I most certainly will." �


After they finished the meal, Pinedance stood up. "Thank you for your kindness. If there's any way I can repay you then, rest assured, I most certainly will." �


Quillia pleaded. "Och, please stay, Pine. Don't go yet." �


The squirrel gazed kindly down at the hogmaid. "Don't worry, Quillia. I'll come back and visit. But I have to go now." �


"Why?"


The hogmaid's father said sternly. "Stop bothering Pinedance, Quillia." The grizzled, old hedge hog addressed the bright, young maid. "We'll miss ye, lass. Take care of yoreself."


Spinia handed Pinedance a haversack. "Here, ye'll need food." �


"You're too kind to me." �


Matt opened the door for her. "Guidbye, lassie. Ah sure hope we see ye agin."


The squirrelmaid looked surprised. "Of course you will! Goodbye everyone. I'll be seeing you." �


The hedgehog family watched her go. Matt voiced his thoughts. "Ah sure hope we see her agin, naow matter whit she says. Ah saw the look in her eyes when she talked aboot yon wildcat. She wants revenge and if she's not careful, she'll get herself killed."



Unaware of Matt's grim comment, Pinedance trudged southward through flying snowflakes. She squinted at a dark blur ahead. Slowly the squirrel worked her way over to it. The dark spot was a pine grove. Pinedance transferred her gaze from the trees to more blotches. She stealthily walked in that direction. The squirrelmaid gasped. Those other spots were not trees; they were ferrets heading toward the hedgehog family's home!




Captain Nwar led his patrol north. Queen Esmeralda had ordered them to search for a likely place to build a new fortress. The ferret captain sighed; it was impossible to see anything with all this snow. He narrowed his eyes. Was the brownish shape in front of them moving? He started toward it, but turned as one of his patrol called out. "Captain Nwar, vot do ye t'ink dat light is ahead?" �


Nwar peered at the light. "Yarr, Zarinik, it looks like a cottage. And eff dere's vone, dere's sure to be more." �




Pinedance gritted her teeth in frustration. The ferret patrol had obviously seen the cottage; they were speeding up and there was no way she could stop them. Her sling pouch had been empty for days now. The squirrelmaid entered the grove. Maybe she could distract them somehow and lead them away from the house. Maybe- Crunch!


She lifted her footpaw. She had stepped on an old pinecone. An idea filtered into her mind. That was it! She could use pinecones as ammunition and sling away at the patrol till they started coming at her


Quickly she gathered more of the stale pinecones, tore a piece from her cloak to enlarge her pouch, and put them in her sling pouch leaving it open. Loading a cone into her sling, she slipped out of the trees and marked the ferrets' position. Then, the squirrelmaid began sneaking over to the patrol.




Captain Halfear led his patrol east. The fox dropped from the lead and fell in step with a beautiful gold-furred vixen. "See a likely spot, Sunfur?"


Sunfur gazed around with olive-green eyes. She had the best eyesight of all in Queen Esmeralda's army. "No, nothing yet, Captain. Wait a minute. See those dark things over there? I wonder what they are."


Halfear peered in the direction Sunfur indicated. "No. I don't see anything." �


The vixen sprinted forward. "You will soon."�


She took another careful glance at the blotches, and then cried out. "They're caves!"


Sunfur called to another member of the patrol, a weasel named Scartail. "Scartail, see those caves over there? Do you think you could go and inspect 'em really quick? You're the fastest one here." �


Scartail snorted. "Who do you think you are, Sunfur? A Captain? I don't take orders from you. And anyhow, I don't see any caves, just dark spots."�


The pretty vixen retorted. "I know I'm not a Captain, Scartail, I don't need you telling me that. And guess what? Those dark spots just so happen to be caves." �


Captain Halfear interrupted the argument. "Scartail, go and inspect the caves. Now. And, Sunfur..." �


She looked at him expectantly. "What?"


He sighed, knowing what the reaction would be. "Go with Scartail." �


Sunfur screeched. "What?!"


"Do it now, Sunfur. You don't have any right to question my orders." �


"Fine. But next time I won't do it." �


Halfear's paw strayed to his sword hilt. "Yes, you will if I order you to. Now go. Or I'll report you to Milady."


The vixen stormed off after the weasel, muttering mutinously. "Huh, don't care if I get reported. I'm sick of being told: 'Do this, do that.'" �


Scartail had overheard her conversation with the Captain. "Come on, Sunfur. Yer as slow as a snail." �


She was in no mood to be talked to like that. She fired back at him. "Oh really. Well, if I'm as slow as you say, then you're blind." �


"I am not!" �


"Yeah? You still can't see the caves."


"How do ya know that, eh?"


"Easy. You're running toward some trees. The caves are this way." �


"I knew that. Talking to you made me change direction. That's all."


"If I believed that, I'd be a hedgehog."


"You're just as prickly."


"Not uh!"


"Yeah huh!"


"Not uh!"


"Yeah huh!"


A shout silenced them both. "Will you two just shut up?! I can hear you from 'ere!" �


They stopped arguing and refused to look at each other. Scartail passed Sunfur and glared at her over his shoulder. She pointedly looked away after shotting a poisonous glance at him. Sunfur noticed some tracks on the snow-covered ground. She crouched to examine them. Pawprints. So there are other creatures around here after all. Three of the critters. The prints headed straight for the caves. The vixen looked up. If the caves proved suitable, this would be a perfect place to build a new fort. She dashed past the weasel. Sunfur slowed as she neared the caves. I bet those creatures live in these caves. � She drew her short sword and entered. She stepped into the gloom and gave her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light.


Scartail let the vixen go in by herself. He had noticed the tracks too and bet that the creatures would want to defend their territory. A slow grin spread across his face. The creatures would probably kill her. Good riddance.




Four mouse-like creatures watched Sunfur carefully and talked to one another in rapid voices �


"Och, whitta she doin' 'ere?"


"Da foxer's spyin'. Maybe, 'tack tae, see 'er sworder?"


"Capture 'er Ah say. Getta net, Echosawng."




Sunfur glanced around the cavern. It would be perfect for a fort and, since there was evidence of others here, there would be slaves. Something inside of her recoiled at the thought of enslaving other creatures. The vixen ventured further into the dimly-light space. She squinted at a faint glow ahead. Abruptly, a brilliant flash of light blinded her for a minute. When she blinked open her eyes, she saw a mouse in armor standing in front of her. His paw rested on the most magnificent blade she had ever seen. He pointed a paw at her and spoke, his voice echoing.


“Vermin though you be,


Soon you shall see, �


The anger caused by your mistress, �


Torn in two, �


I will not abandon you, �



For before you lies the choice, �


Honor, Treachery, Truth, Lies,


Hear my voice,


Chose rightly and face a destiny none of your kind has faced before.” �



The mouse disappeared, leaving the vixen pondering what he had said. What did all that mean? A heavy weight crashed into her from behind followed by more and more. She struggled, kicking, biting, and slashing with her claws since she could not use her sword at such close range. She managed to fling several of them away before something hit her hard between the ears and she drifted into blackness.




Pinedance stalked Nwar's patrol in absolute silence. When she got within slinging range, she silently began whirling her sling, aiming at Captain Nwar's back. She let fly and darted around to sling from behind a different hill.





Nwar winced as the pinecone struck him square in the middle of his back. Whipping out his sword, the ferret turned on his patrol. "Who did dat?!" �


The other ferrets exchanged bewildered looks. One, bolder then the rest, asked in a puzzled voice. "Do vot, Captain?" �


Three more cones from different directions flew at the ferrets at almost the same time. Then, the offensive objects were hurled at them none stop. The vermin screeched with pain and tried to run. But they could not. Pinecones rained down upon them. However, nobeast noticed that a brown paw grabbing some that were in the snow whenever they weren't looking. The captain shielded his face with an arm. Drawing his dagger and dropping his saber, he relized that the majority of the pinecones come from the way they were headed. He noted the place they came from most often and waited. When whoever was slinging at them reached that spot, he flung the blade straight at it. �





Pinedance dodged the blade as it whizzed past. She did not escape unscathed however. A long gash ran along her arm. Though it was not deep, she knew it would leave a scar that would last for quite a lengthy space of time. Thinking quickly, she snatched more cones, threw them at the patrol, and called out in an eerie voice that rose and fell as she talked. "Muhahahaha! Was thaaaat suupoooosed tooo hiiit meeee? Foooolss! Hoooow daaareee yoooouu treeesspass oooon my territory? The Phaaaantooom of the mooouutaaain doooesss nnoooot treeeaaaat treeesspassers kiiindly. Staaaate whyyy yoou aaare heeere. �


Nwar trembled at these and forgot that only pinecones hit them. "Ve mean no 'arm. Don't hurt us! Please!"


"Thaaaat iiiss noooo answeeeer. Answeeer nooooow ooorr diiieeee!" �


The captain rushed his words together. "Vearesoldiers'oworkforQueenEsmeralda. Ve'llleaverightawayeffyouvant."


Pinedance had to force herself to stay put. Soldiers in Esmeralda's army! "Goooooooo thhheeeen aaandd neeeeveer cooomeee baaack. Oooor Iii'll let myyyy frieeends geeet riiid oooof yoooouuu once and fooor aaall."


The vermin fled, each desperatly trying not be in the back. �


Pinedance inspected her wound. It was clean and not very deep. She tore a strip from the edge of her cloak and tied it around the injury. She stood, wrapped her sling about her waist, and set off eastward, straight toward the caves where Sunfur had been captured.




Scartail smirked when he heard the sounds of a fight. The weasel ran back to the patrol and panted like crazy to make it sound like he had been running for quite some time. Halfear grabbed him. "Where is Sunfur?" �


The weasel blurted out a made up story. "I tried to warn her not to go in the caves because I saw some tracks in the snow which showed that other creatures lived there. But she ignored me and then the creatures attacked her. There were far to many to fight, at least three score. They killed her and I had to run for my life! �


Halfear sighed; she had been a good soldier. "Ah well, let's get back and report the Queen Esmeralda."




"WHAT?


Nwar shifted uneasily. "Er, yarr, Milady. A huge band o' ghosts, far to many for us ter fight, slung away at us vit...Um...Pinecones." �


Esmeralda snorted scornfully. "You can't fight ghosts. Some captain you are, running away from pinecones. You have proved that you are not worthy of the title, captain. From now on, you are just a regular soldier." �


The demoted ferret tried to persuade the wildcat queen. "But, Milady, I-" �


The wildcat interrupted him. "Go now. Unless, of course, you no longer wish to live." �


The ferret took off his cape of rank, fled the room, bowled over Captain Halfear who was going to make his report, stumbled down the stairs, and dashed into the barracks. �


Captain Halfear stared after him. "What was that all about?" �


He picked himself up and announced himself to Esmeralda. "Captain Halfear coming in to report, Milady!"


The wildcat queen sat down on a mahogany chair. "Come in. I hope you weren't frightened off by pinecones like that idiot Nwar?"


The fox reported. "We found some caves that would make a good fortress. There's one problem though..."�


Esmeralda looked at him impatiently. "What problem?"�


He gulped. "The caves are already inhabited. Sunfur was killed by them. According to Scartail, there were far too many to fight."�


The wilcat queen shrugged. "So? We all go there, fight them, make them our slaves, and make a new fortress. Simple. Send Scartail up to me and tell everyone to be ready to march tomorrow." �


He made his way down to the barracks, pushing and shoving soldiers out of his way. Halfear jostled over to Scartail. "Queen Esmeralda wants you." �


Scartail looked nervously at him. "Did she say why?" �


The fox shook his head. "No. But if I were you, I'd hurry up and see what she wants."�


Scartail darted by him to Esmeralda's chamber. �


Esmeralda smiled at him. The weasel shuddered, usually that was not a good sign. "Well, Scartail, I've heard many good reports about you."


He swallowed, wondering where this was leading. "Er, thanks, Milady." �


Then she said something he was totally unprepared for. "You are now Captain Scartail. You are taking that idiot Nwar's place."


She picked up the cape of captaincy dropped by Nwar and gave it to the promoted weasel. He just stared at it, not beleiving what had just occured. The wildcat snarled at him. "Well, are you going to take it or are you just going to stare at it?"�


He snatched it hastily. "Yes, Milady. No, Milady." �


He put it on and scurried out of the room.




Chapter Three



(Author note: QuickWind is not my character, but I got permission to use him.)




Gonff, son of Gonff, crept up to the window where all the food fresh out of the oven was placed to cool. Checking to make sure the friar's back was turned, the mousethief snatched a couple of piping hot scones. He slunk away, juggling them to keep them from burniing his paws. He made his way over to the east wall stairs to eat his scones unseen. �




A young red squirrel of twenty-five seasons watched him, a quiet smile on his lips. The muscular squirrel stood to stop Gonff, but before he could take a step in his direction, Sister Senna crossed the thief's path.�




Gonff hastily slipped the scones into a pouch on the back of his belt. He smiled charmingly. "Hello, Sister. Just going to look at the beautiful view."



She eyed him suspiciously. "Are you sure that's all you're doing."



The scones' heat burned him. He hid his discomfort by looking indignant. "Aye, that's all. What else would I be doing?"


"Stealing food from the kitchen perhaps?" �


"Now, why would I do that?"


"Because you're a thief like your father." �


"So?" �


Steam from the scones drifted up, forming a cloud above Gonff's head. He kept a smile on his face though his teeth were gritted. Senna had one eyebrow raised as she stare at the cloud. "Mind explaining how that got there?"


Gonff could not bear it any longer: he grabbed the scones and consumed them, ignoring his now scorched tongue.


The sister waggled a paw at him. "You did steal scones! Shame on you!"


He grinned disarmingly. "Just sampling them to make sure they taste alright."


Senna opened her mouth to reprimand him further, but before she could, one of the other sisters called to her. "Sister Senna, I need help with the Dibbuns."


The old mouse stalked off to assist with the babes.



The squirrel went over to the son of the Prince of Mousethieves. "Too bad Sister Senna caught you."


The mousethief blew on his scorched paws. "Aye, QuickWind matey. Mmmmm. Top notch scones. I bet an acorn to an apple tree that Goody made them. Her cooking is the best, but don't tell Friar Barkjak I said that."


QuickWind nodded agreement. Gonff offered. "Want me to steal some for you, matey?"


The squirrel shook his head. "I'll wait for lunch." �


Gonff shrugged. "Have it your way." �




Sister Ferndew inspected Skipper's paw. "Hmmm. Some herbs to stop infection and a good dose of physic should cure that!" �


Skipper pulled a face when the squirrel sister mentioned physic. The Infirmary Sister gently placed a poultice on the wound and wound a bandage around it. Ferndew gave Primrose the physic. "Could you please make sure Skip takes it all? I have to get something."


The squirrel whipped around and left the room.


The otter chieftain was surprised. He had expected the physic to taste horrible, but it was sweet and soothing. �


Lady Amber, the squirrelqueen, popped in. "I heard about what happened. Are you alright Skip?"


Sister Ferndew came in carrying a cup of tea. "Aye, he's fine. He'll have to stay here in the sick bay for awhile though." �


Lady Amber smiled sympatheticly at him. "Too bad about that. I'll get my son too bring you some lunch." She glanced at Primrose. "Shall I ask him to bring lunch for two?"


Primrose nodded while Skipper blushed. "Aye. That would be nice." �


The squirrelqueen and the sick bay Sister exchanged a knowing glance. Ferndew turned to Amber. "I'll go with you." �


They left leaving the otters alone. Lady Amber nudged Ferndew. "Did you see the way Skipper blushed when I asked if QuickWind should bring lunch for two?" �


"Aye. He's in love!" �


"I never thought he would fall in love again after Bula died." �


"Well, one can fall in love and marry more then once in a lifetime and you know that."


"Aye. I do." �


Chatting back and forth the squirrels strolled over to the orchard.




Friar Barkjak had set up lunch on some blankets. There was a barrel of strawberry fizz, summer salad, cheese and onion farls, deeper'n'ever'n'turnip'n'tater'n'beetroot pie, and sugar plum pudding. The Dibbuns eyed the pudding, huddling together to plan on how to steal it. Gonff II joined them. All the Abbeybeasts sat on the grass laughing and talking. Abbot Tim rose to his paws and said the grace. �




"We thank Mother Nature for the food she gives us,


Berry, plum, apple, and pear, �


Let us never waste these gifts,�


Or fight and glare."



There was a hearty "Amen" and everybeast fell to eating. Lady Amber called to QuickWind. "Quint, could you please take some food up to Skip and Primrose in the sick bay?" �


He filled two trays. "Aye."


The suirrel jogged off, balancing the trays. �


Gonff, the Prince of Mousethieves, passed the Dibbuns who were racing over to Columbine. He filled his plate with more deeper'n'ever pie and some sugarplum pudding and went back to his wife. The babes were begging her to tell them a story. She relented. "Oh alright. Which one do you want to hear?"


"Da one 'bout Matrin an' da bad cat." �


Gonff interrupted. "That one's a bit to long, mates. Though I'll gladly tell you it myself tonight if you want."�


Columbine smiled. "Aye, and you'll exaggerate everything you did."


The mousethief shrugged. "And what's wrong with that, O jewel of the woods?"


She ignored him. "How about a really short one?" She asked the Abbeybabes. �


"Da one 'bout Gonff and da cake."


Gonff put on an innocent face. "What about me an' the cake?" �


T he Dibbuns giggled and Columbine said, "You'll just have to wait and see," even though she knew perfectly well that Gonff already knew. �


Just then Dafadil woke up. Gonff picked her up and started walking her around. Columbine smiled and began the tale. "One day, Gonff decided he was hungry. So, he stole a cake of the cooling sill and ate close to the woodland edge so no one would see him. Later, when the Abbess came to check on the cakes she found Gonff standing there with a bow and arrows."

"Why did 'e 'ave a bow, Columbine?"

"You'll soon find out, Rosey. Abbess Germaine asked him, 'Why are you standing there, Gonff, with bow and arrows armed?' Gonff replied. 'My dear Abbess, please don't be alarmed. For I saw an eagle steal your cakes, then he fly away so I stand guard least he come back today!' Germaine gave him another cake and promised that every baking day she'd make a special one for him, 'For you kind action's sake!'" The mousewife shook her head. "Now don't let me catch any of you Dibbuns trying to pull a stunt like that!"



The rest of the afternoon was spent playing games. Young and old alike took part in contests for boating, archery, singing, dancing, climbing (squirrels were not allowed to take part in this one), slinging, kite-flying, sack races, foot races, and much more.

Much to the dismay of the Dibbuns, Sister Senna, Sister Primrose, and Sister Amyl herded them into the Abbey for baths just as the games started. Whining, kicking, screaming, shouting, and darting around the lawns were methods used by the babes to try and convince the sisters that gettin a bath was not a good idea. Some of Skip's crew helped them get the babes inside amid loud protests.

Over by the east wall, bags of sand were set up as targets for the archery contest. Lady Amber made sure everybeast was behind the rope before taking up her position next to the last bag. The squirrelqueen laid her tail flat on the ground; the archers set arrows on their bows and drew them back, carefully aiming at the center of their target. Her tail rose up like a flag.

Phhuutt!

Some arrows hit the targets, others missed. Mayberry and Catkin, Skipper's granddaughters, bit their lips with disappointment for their shafts were among those that missed. Lady Amber patted the ottermaids' shoulders as she walked by, inspecting the targets. "They were good shots, missies. Just a puff of wind at the wrong moment, eh?"

Mayberry and Catkin managed somewhat half-hearted smiles. Lady Amber winked at them and continued on her way. She pulled an arrow from a sand bag and announced to the onlookers. "Ashtwig wins!"

Cheers rang out for the proud squirrel Ashtwig as Lady Amber presented her with the prize, an arrow with ivy twisted around it.

The three legged race and the quarter staff bout had taken place at the same time as the Archery contest. Quickwind, who won the quarter staff bout, and Wavefoam and Shell(who had somehow evaded the sisters) rushed off to join in other sports. Ashtwig followed Quickwind. "Bet you wish the wall race was this season, eh? I know you'd win."

Quickwind nodded. "Aye, I wish it was this season."

Ashtwig chewed on a blade of grass. "I wonder if Gingivere and his family are coming. 'Twould be no surprise if they didn't though. Must be very busy at the farm, planting things and other farm stuff. I'm glad I don't love on a farm. Redwall is such a great place! Don't you think so, Quint? I wonder what's going to happen this spring. Something memorable always happens each season. Do you remember what Abbot Tim named the season? I can't recall. But I've been far to busy to think about such things. Playing games is serious buisness. Oh, look! That cloud right there, d'ya see it? It looks like a dagger to me. Did you know we're on guard tonight? Haha, they won't have to worry about bringing us food today. After the feast I'm going to be stuffed! Uh oh, I'm gonna leave now. Here comes Brother Scrittum."

Quickwind's eyes had glazed over with boredom. Ashtwig dashed off and,as soon as the son of Lady Amber saw the old mouse coming his way, Quickwind followed suit.

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