"Who are you?" asked a large weasel, blocking the gates into Darksun Fortress.
"I am called Nightstars," replied a dark badger, skulking in the shadows.
"You may not be admitted!" said the weasel. "My name is Zentruff, Captain to Queen Sage the Mighty. You must have permission from Queen Sage to be allowed onto Darksun turf."
Nightstars snorted, "Fogbreath! I have Gulish, whom I was sent for! You must let me in!"
Grumbling, Zentruff let Nightstars into the grounds.
Nightstars could barely hide a sly smile, for she was a spy from Redwall Abbey! Now she could tell the Redwallers all the information they needed! Queen Sage really shouldn't appoint stupid guards, Nightstars thought.
But no matter. Now that she was in, she could spy all she wanted! As she headed into the darkening grounds, she heard Zentruff say something.
Nightstars turned around. The weasel guard was scampering away, calling "Hhujuk! Hhujuk!"
Nightstars chuckled to herself. Zentruff had left his spear.
Throwing it into a pile under the bushes, she called, "Tis Nightmmmmmmmoooooooooooooonnnnnnnn!"
A tiny head peeked out. "Thanks, Nightmoon." said a voice. "Good luck."
A mousewife busied herself tending the laundry, but really, she went to talk to the squirrel chief. "Lady Rose, are you sure it was the right choice to send Nightmoon into Darksun? If Sage found her, it could be awful!"
Lady Rose, a pretty yet fierce young squirrel scowled at the mousewife. "Still thinking only of your self, Carina? Nightmoon is ful-filling her duties as a spy for the RADP!"
Carina, dipping a cloak into water, scowled back. "Remind me again what the Radp is supposed to be doing, other than making more laundry for a poor mousewife?"
Lady Rose chuckled. "Only told you a thousand times, Carina. Redwall Abbey Defense Program helps train fighters to rebel against Darksun and it's rulers, whoever they may be. That fort rightfully belongs to us!"
Lady Rose's smile had left her face, and was replaced by a furious frown. "We'll fight them. That's why Nightmoon is in Darksun. To discover their plots!"
Carina let out a hiss. "Oh, is that why we're putting Nightmoon's life in danger? Is that all?"
Lady Rose exploded. "All!? THERE IS A DANGEROUS WILDCAT PREPARING TO COME AND KILL US, BURN REDWALL, AND BEAT OUR CHILDREN! SHE WILL TAKE OVER OUR ABBEY AND ALL YOU CAN THINK OF IS LAUNDRY?! HOW SELFISH ARE YOU, CARINA WILDWEED???!!!???"
Grunting, Carina neatly folded the cloak into a basket. "If Sage's gonna attack, we should at least have fresh laundry. Now go and help Maryheart with the feast."
Seeing the young squirrel open her mouth, Carina Wildweed snapped, "That's an order from your elder, Lady Rose Squirrelchief!"
There was to be a feast that night at Redwall, so Lady Rose and Maryheart had their hands full. Skipper of otters had come to help taste-test, to make sure things were “edible”.
Rose took some offense at that, thinking he had no confidence in her, but, in secret, Skipper assured her that it was Maryheart that needed to be watched.
Lady Rose and Skipper had no time to converse, however. As soon as they entered, Cheyanne, an ottermaid who had volunteered to take over the cooking, bustled over to them, calling instructions over her shoulder as she went.
“Skipper!” Cheyanne said, relieved. “And Lady Rose, good, good! Okay, let's see... Lady Rose, go help Friar Martin with that dandelion cordial, he needs some help, then help Shrith with the apple pies. Skipper, Carina needs you with the mushroom flans. After you lot finish, report back to me!!!” Cheyanne was already walking away.
Lady Rose looked at Skipper. “Well, I guess we better do as she told us.”
Skipper turned to look at Lady Rose. “Cheer up! The feast'll be fun!”
But cheering up was one thing that was not on the young squirrel's mind. Her conversation with Carina continued goin around in her brain.
Oh, is that why we're putting Nightmoon's life in danger? Is that all?
All? There is a dangerous wildcat who is coming to kill us, burn Redwall, and beat our children! She will take over our Abbey, and all you can think of is laundry? How selfish are you, Carina Wildweed!!!?????????
If Sage is going to attack, we should at least have fresh laundry. Now go and help Maryheart with the feast!
That's an order, Lady Rose Squirrelchief!
Queen Sage was no beauty queen, but she was headed for Redwall. Named for her grayish tint, that had become the color of the tyrant queen. She wore a slightly-darker gray cloak than the color of her fur, and it had the symbol of the Shadow Warriors on it- a sword piercing the middle of a thorn leaf.
Sage commanded ten-score soldiers in her horde, the Shadow Warriors. Any animal quivered at the sight of the sword, it's tip deeply embedded into a leaf, a deadly thorn just rising from the tip of the leaf.
Gurth, a large, fat ferret, carried the banner bearing the crest of Sage, while just behind him stood two score of swords men, led by Redhide, a large fox with a curved sword.
Each of the swordsmen were clad in gray armor, a curved sword at the ready at all times. Sage was the only leader north of the Shoretide that had it's horde dressed with head armor. But the Shadow Warriors most certainly had head armor. It was gray, with a large blue feather sticking straight out of the top.
Next came a few of the captains, carefully watching every hordesbeast. They too carried a sword, but theirs was straight, and they also carried a shield. This shield had the sign of Darksun on it: the thorn leaf with the sword through it. The only other differences were that the captains had a red feather out of their head armor, and their cloaks were red, Sage's other color, with huge, plummeting feathers.
After the captains came the archers, bows always ready, armor always gleaming. Their feathers stood straight up, a symbol to the rest of the Shadow Warriors, that these were archers. The swordsmen's feathers were allowed to droop down.
Then came Queen Sage. In her gray cloak, she carried no weapons other than a short sword. But this sword was sharper than any of the swordsmen's weapons. Sage really was a wildcat tyrant.
But what struck fear in the woodlanders more than seeing the banner, held by the fat weasel captain, or seeing the heavily guarded weasels behind the wildcat was what they knew about the Warriors. What made them fear Sage and her horde was knowing that the hordesbeasts chose to follow their leader. So they could mercilessly fight. And kill.
Nightmoon was in, only to be told that Sage was gone. She could, however, bring Gulish down to the dungeons. Since Zentruff had reported most favorably on her behavior and ability to follow orders (though he still couldn't find his spear), Nightmoon was allowed to bring him to the dungeons with only one guard. Hhujuk, the guard Zentruff had been looking for, was the head of the cells at Darksun, so he chose the guards.
Darkstreak and Nightmoon headed down to the dungeons, a hedgehog babe behind them.
The hogbabe called out desperately, “When we stop, Missus Nightmoon?”
Harshly, Nightmoon cuffed the babe. “I am Nightstars, and don't you forget that!”
But Darkstreak was closely looking at the badger and the hog babe. “Are you sure? You look like the badger the Redwallers used to have, named Nightmoon.”
Unfortunately, Darkstreak was one of the brighter hordesbeast.
The badger spy turned swiftly so that the fox did not see the moon shaped scar that Sage's father, the warlord Eaglescratch, had dealt her. “Nightmoon was my sister. I have denied all sisterhood with that traitor of a badger. Lord Eaglescratch should have finished her off!”
Darkstreak nodded. “Both Queen Sage and I are always pleased to see another warrior, Lady Nightstars. How is Nightmoon faring?”
Nightmoon heaved a false groan. “Fine. But Redwall believes I am spying for them. My true service lies in helping Darksun conquer the Abbey forever!”
Darkstreak nodded again. “Good, good. Betrayal is hard, but it pays off. Have you any information?”
“Of course.” replied Nightmoon.
“Cood you tell me?” asked the weasel guard gruffly.
“I am sorry, but that is between Queen Sage and I.” Nightmoon answered politely, still trying not to be rude.
Nodding back his disappointment, Darkstreak stepped off the last stair. “We also like fighters who are loyal to their secrets. You never know who's who when there's war around. Queen Sage'll be back within the next hour. I trust you can put one hedgehog baby in the cells, so I'll leave you here. Farewell for now, Lady Nightstars!”
And, starting up the stairs again, the weasel guard left the dungeons.
Lady Rose just managed to escape Cheyanne and the feast. Running blindly through Mossflower, she ran and ran and ran- the feast was crazily busy! She didn't notice the hole until it was too late.
With a scream, the squirrelqueen fell down into the hole. She grabbed a twig, noticing the sharp, pointed rocks at the bottom, but, in horror, she watched as the twig stretched. When it was about to break, Lady Rose heard a rescue party coming. But, with a snap, the twig broke off and Lady Rose was thrown into the pit. Down, down, down, heading quickly towards the pointed rocks. Certain death was waiting.
“Seen Lady Rose?” asked Cheyanne, dipping a plate into a basin of water, scrubbing with a log of soap, dunking it into the water, and handing it to Skipper.
The otter looked worried. “No, but Maryheart took Foremole and a few other otters out to look for her.”
“Where could she've gone?” asked Cheyanne worriedly.
“Nowhere far.” Skipper assured her, his paws guiltly close to the container next to them, filled with blackberries.
Maryheart stopped to listen. “Did you hear something?” she asked worriedly.
“Burr aye, oi herd eet do.” Foremole grunted.
Calieke, one if the otters, said, “Was it Lady Rose, Mary?”
But the mousemaid was not listening. She was searching the undergrowth for the squirrelqueen.
“Foind 'er?” asked Foremole.
“No.” replied Maryheart. “Wait!” She had found the pit.
“What is it?” Calieke asked.
“C'mere, Foremole.” replied the distant voice of Maryheart.
Foremole, worried as can be, scurried over and peeked over the edge of the pit.
“Oi see somefink!” Foremole exclaimed.
As Calieke and Maryheart peered over, they could clearly see a shadow down, far into the pit. And still falling.
Lady Rose was temporarily knocked senseless. Until she hit the jutting rock. Scrambling to get on, she looked down. Under the cloak of shadow, she could faintly see the outline of the dreaded, pointed rocks. Realizing that this rock was her last hope to live, she stayed on.
Lady Rose looked up, and faintly saw the silhouette of Maryheart, Foremole, and Calieke.
The shadow in the pit had stopped falling. Calling into the pit, Calieke screamed, “It is the Great and Wonderful Calieke the Otter, with my companions the Digger Master Fore Mole, and the Best Cook in Mossflower, Maryheart the Mousemaid. Ahoy, Shadows, we see you. Identify yourself!”
Lady Rose could've danced for years. The party had found her! “Ahoy yourself, Great Calieke, Digger Master Fore Mole, and Best Cook Maryheart, I am Lady Rose the Archer, chief of squirrels from Redwall Abbey.” Grinning, she said in her normal voice, “Hey, Cali, could you, uh, maybe, just um, let's say, pull me up?”
Calieke replied, “Sure, matey!”
Maryheart called to Foremole, which Lady Rose could barely hear, “Bring that rope!”
Nearly four seconds later, a rope fell down to the squirrelqueen. “Roger, Lady the Archer. Is thy rope long anough?”
“Aye, aye!” replied Lady Rose, tying the rope around her waist.
Suddenly, the rock Lady Rose was standing on was collapsing. “Hurry!” she screamed.
Calieke gave a pull, and the rock completely fell apart. Lady Rose was completely suspended in mid-air.
Nightmoon took Gulish quietly into the depths of the dungeon. Giggling, Gulish asked, “You give beeegggg lie, Nightymoony.”
Cuffing the hogbabe lightly across the ears, Nightmoon whispered, "Sometimes I have to do that, Gulish. The sooner you understand that, the better. Now, you go in there. Don't tell Sage anything!" Nightmoon cautioned as she led Gulish into the cell. Be goooooooooddddddddd!"
Redwall Abbey was so happy to have Lady Rose back, that Evea, one of the otters, allowed the squirrelqueen to gather the flowers for the feast, though she knew that Rose would refuse. Surprisingly, Lady Rose said yes, and she and Mother Hazel, the badger mother, went out and got enough flowers to bathe in.
Calieke and Skipper were finishing the hotroot soup, and Maryheart and Cheyanne were making the cake. Abbott Juniper bustled around making comments, until Foremole told him to bathe the Dibbuns, when he threw up his hands and ran out, leaving the Redwallers chuckling behind him.
Sage and her Shadow Warriors were now completely lost. They stumbled around, groaning and grumbling, until Sage ordered the turn-about back to Darksun, where the wildcat fully expected to find Nightstars waiting for her. With Gulish, the hedgehog baby.
Nightmoon bowed to Queen Sage. “My queen, I have Gulish, whom I was sent for.”
The wildcat turned her pityless hazel eyes on the badger. “And?” Her voice was rough and quiet.
“He claims that the Redwallers are attacking tomorrow night.”
Sage smiled evilly, her perfect teeth flashing white. “Good. Nightstars, you have done well. Bring the babe to me.”
Bowing, Nightmoon left the room.
“Alright, Skipper Van Otters, you have an official challenger! Calieke Van Otter has challenged you to a hotroot soup contest- first one to drink water loses! You may drink the pond afterwards-” the were giggles, “But now until! Understood?” Lady Rose called out.
Calileke nodded, having drunk half of Vuntch Hedgespine's cellar.
“And you, Skipper?”
Skipper of Otters nodded, his head in a beaker of strawberry cordial. Removing his head and licking his lips, Skipper sighed with contentment. “Aye, Rosy-posy, ready when you are!”
Lady Rose gave him a stern look. “We'll never start if'n you keep calling me Rose-posy!”
“Oh, alright, Lady ROSE.” Skipper said in mock exasperation.
The surrounding Redwallers smiled and laughed.
Nodding in satisfaction, Lady Rose turned to a beautiful otter maid dressed in a crimson cloak with golden trimming- the sacred Hotroot Singer's Cloak. “Take it away, Evea Otter!”
Evea tossed off her cloak in the way the Hotroot Contest Singers always did. She began the poem-
- Okay, Challenger, step right up!
- Hello, Skipper, yo, what's up?
- So you think you can add more pep
- Then Calieke...Calieke the Sep?
- Start addin' hotroot, bro' of mine.
- When we're finished, no beast'll dine.
- Then we'll drink dry the Abbey pond
- And lay on the grass. Oh, what a bond!
- First a pawful, now a cup.
- Oh, I'm so glad that you stepped up!
- Now a tailful... one or two.
- Steady, Skipper, remember to chew!
- What? Oh, I must dump the bag!
- Ha, ol' Skipper'll soon give the sag!
- Oh, good, he has called a draw...
- Why? Because I've burned my paw!”
- Okay, Challenger, step right up!
The Redwallers cheered and roared uproariously as Evea finished her song. Nobody knew when singing the Hotroot Song had started, but this everybeast knew- you always changed the names in it. It wouldn't make since if the Hotroot Singer was singing about Thrugg and Thuggann, when Calieke and Skipper were competing, would it?
Lady Rose held a wooden switch with a piece of tapestry at the end. The Redwallers fell silent. They watched the switch with anticipation. “Ready... Get set...GO!!!!”
With a roar, Skipper grabbed the bag of pepper from Maryheart. The mousemaid stepped back, chuckling, and watched as Calieke took another bag from Cheyanne.
Squirrels, moles, mice, voles, and a badger all started screaming good luck calls to their competitors:
“Show the ottermaid what you can do, Skip!”
“Add the pepper, Calieke! Ignore the flames!”
“You'll get the pond later, riverdog! C'mon, Skipper of Otters, just dump the whole bag!”
“Don't be outdone, Calieke! If he dumps, you do too!”
Abbeott Juniper walked calmly up to the table, where Calieke and Skipper were competing. There was more pepper in Skipper's bowl, but, knowing Skipper, he would probably just declare it a draw. Finally, Juniper pointed to Skipper. “Our victor!”
Victorious cries rang out through the room. Skipper slid over to Calieke, whispered something, and the pair ran out, panting like dogs in summer.
“So... hedgehog.” Queen Sage purred as she faced Gulish.
“So... wild cat.” Gulish replied, trying to look fierce.
Nightmoon stood in the corner with Zentruff and Hhujuk, watching the scene.
“Now... I want to make a deal with you. The Redwallers are planning something... oh, yes, Queen Sage knows all. I do not know what, but they are definintly planning something.
“Anyhow, Gulish or whatever-they-call-you, how would you like to eat my best apple pie?”
Gulish squinted his tiny eyes. “Wiv meadwow cwream?”
The wildcat tyrant queen smiled triumphantly. “Aye, with meadowcream.”
Gulish shook his head. “Nah, no pie beat the Wedwall apple pie. 'Specially Cweyanne's. She make good pie, good meadwow cwream too.”
“And how good is Cheyanne's pie?”
The hedgehog babe smiled.”Vwery gwood. And Abbott Jwunipwer too busy talking to Mwover Hwazel 'bout war and swuff, he miss chance to eat pie. Gulish and moi pals pinca his pies! He gwot mwad at us, ho aye!”
Sage allowed herself an inward smile. “And what were Abbott Avery and Mother Hazel talking about?”
Gulish frowned. “Ummmmmmm, talking about... lots of twings!”
Sage inwardly began fuming at the impudence at her captive. Her mood could change on a dime. “Like what? You said war...”
Gulish scowled. “Mmm hmm, lotsa bad twings, ho aye!”
Suddenly, outside the room a bell rang loud and clear. The rat on duty cried, “Ship a-comin' into our harbor! Ambush!”
A quick swipe of a searat sword silenced him forever.
Sage jumped up, sending the pie into Hhujuk's face. The fox wiped it off, snarling.
Zentruff, Darkstreak, take the baby to his cell. Nightstars, you can go to your chamber. Hhujuk! Clean yore filthy self off, sound the alarm, and get the troops in order. DOUBLE TIME!!!!”
If Carina had thought she had laundry before, she now had it double time. Skipper and Calieke, who had been a good sport about Skipper winning the hotroot contest, had discovered something under the west wall. Therefore, the dirty clothes began piling into Carina's basket. This did nothing to improve her temper, so she did the laundry out by the west wall.
In fact, when Lady Rose brought more laundry and stayed to chat about Nightmoon, Carina exploded. “WHAT IN THE NAME OF SQUIRRELS DO YOU WANT, ROSE?????”
And, angrily, Carina pushed Lady Rose.
Down...down...down she fell under the west wall. With a bump, she landed at the bottom. The sudden impact on the tunnel sent rocks and dust swirling down on them.
Carina suddenly knew fear at what she had done, especially what she had caused...
That night, Nightmoon took a stroll through the Darksun grounds. Sage had promoted her earlier to Major, and Nightmoon made every vermin know.
Smirking, Nightmoon took a piece of Redwall parchment, a quill, and ink. She quickly scribbled a note on it:
I came by on patrol tonight. You were sleeping on duty. I have reported you to Her Majesty High Queen Sage. Ten nights in the gatehouse is your punishment. There, you will do anything that Captain Zentruff asks of you, or Queen Sage will be notified again. Remember, no sleeping on guard duty! --High Major Nightstars Badger
Smiling, Nightmoon pinned the note onto his sword belt, where he would awake to see it. Being a Major in the enemy's house and catching them napping was great fun!
Nightmoon took out another piece of parchment. She wrote her report to the Redwallers in the same, spirited handwriting:
Hah! Some guards! I have caught several sleeping on duty tonight. I do exactly as Lady Rose recommended- I come down harsh and silent. Sage appointed me the first High Major Nightstars today. Gulish nearly told them about Abbott Avery and Mother Hazel's pretend conversation about war today. Right before, however, some rat called out an ambush message and Sage jumped up. Anyway, Gulish is treated civilly. I suppose that is the main concern, is it not? All is well here, I hope to see you home, nice and safe, soon. Tell all Redwallers that I am well aware of the danger, but I am willing to give up my life for all of my faithful friends and wonderful mother. Take care, --High Major Nightmoon “Nightstars” Badger of Redwall Abbey Forever!
The badger spy carefully folded the note behind her, scribbled the name, Redwall Abbey, and tucked it into a bush.
Smiling, Nightmoon saw another guard sleeping. She took out a piece of parchment and wrote her message on it.