Okay. So I'm Varkanax39, and this is my first Redwall fanfic ever. I've been a fan of the series for more than six years, and I've read every single one of the books multiple times. The inspiration for this came to me a few weeks ago, and I've decided to post this here. If you read it, hope you enjoy the novel. If you take the time to read this, please tell me what you think in a review/comment. I welcome all types of feedback, especially constructive criticism.
Disclaimer: I do not own Redwall. All Redwall characters, locations, etc., were created by Brian Jacques. All of the original characters in this fanfic are my own creation.
The Last Champion: A Novel of RedwallEdit
There are many legends of Redwall Abbey, tales that hold both beauty and kindness, fear and tragedy- and are filled with both goodbeasts and with fearsome creatures that have stepped from nightmares. The legends of seasons long past, of tyrants who attacked Redwall and yet were turned back by the might of our Abbey Warrior Martin, who even now helps us through our dreams in times of need.
But never was Redwall Abbey so threatened than during the Summer of the Twisting Flame. It was then that we faced what we had feared for so long once again- a war against an enemy incalculably cold, merciless, and insidious. An enemy powerful, who held the weapons of fear and hatred in both hands. Without the aid of a powerful champion or outside aid, we fought on.
You wish to hear how it happened, you say? How the Twisting Flame came, bringing with it fire and death to Mossflower? I shall tell you, though be warned it is both a tale of triumph and tragedy. Perhaps when it is done all that has happened in the past seasons will make sense to you, young one.
Hah! You say you are not young. Compared to me you are young indeed, my friend. I have seen more seasons than your mother's mother. I have seen Redwall undergo many tribulations in my lifetime. But no season was worse than the Summer of the Twisting Flame.
Now, journey back with me, young one, into the Land of Dreams, where all time is held together as one. Where the Weavers of Dreams abide, those tellers of long-forgotten seasons. Listen to me, and I will tell you the tale. The tale of Redwall Abbey, and those who wished to conquer it.
It was during the Summer of the Twisting Flame that the worst fate we could have thought happen befell our beautiful abbey…
Part I: Fireclaw RisingEdit
Dawn was breaking over Mossflower Wood in a gorgeous cascade of colored light. The newly risen sun beat down upon the massive sandstone walls of Redwall Abbey, where upon the ramparts an elderly Badger lady stood, watching the sunrise. For a moment, the sunlight illuminated her features. She was tall, though age had bent her body slightly forward. Still, age had not brought weakness to this badger. She still looked strong, imposing, and fearsome, as she had years ago when she had ruled Salamandastron, the mountain of the Badger Lords.
Upon the rampart with her sat several of Redwalls abbeybabes, affectionately called Dibbuns by all Redwallers. All of them were listening intently to the elderly badger, their eyes staring at her with wide-eyed fascination as she recounted her tale.
"And then, when the Last Champion vanished during the Summer of the Lark's Song, he took the Sword of Martin the Warrior with him," she said. "His reasons for doing this are unclear, but evidently they were good enough for the Mother Abbess at the time, Abbess Kara, to let him go with the Sword. And since then, the squirrel known as Arken has never been seen since."
"But 'e left one thing, didn't 'e, mother Maia?" said one of the Dibbuns, a small mousebabe named Traye, excitedly. "The Riddle!"
"Yes, Arken left the Riddle," agreed Maia. "One day he was there, the next he was gone, leaving behind only the garbled riddle he claimed to have received from Martin. Not a riddle, he called it, he said it was the Riddle. A prophecy he'd received from Martin, along with the direction to take his sword and leave Redwall. And every good abbeybabe knows Arken's Riddle by heart. Do you?"
"Of course!" burst out the hedgehog maid sitting next to Traye, whose name was Turi. "In seasons far, when darkness and flame, falls upon Redwall-"
Now a molebabe took over "Ze h'abbey bluestone must be 'ound, or h'all ze wood shall fall."
"My Last secret lies in the second, in the words I wrote and gave, I have seen," said Turi.
Two abbey squirrels, one light, one dark, will save or end all hope."
"If the green-black eyes join-"began Traye, but Maia cut him off.
"That's enough," said the Badger Mother. "So you do know Arken's riddle. And that is the story of how the champion of Redwall vanished. And we have not had an Abbey Warrior since."
"Except Martin!" said Turi. "Martin protects us, doesn't he, mother?"
"Of course," said Maia. "Martin always watches over our abbey."
"But what about all of the bad stuff in the Riddle?" asked Traye, a hint of fear in his voice. "About the fires and everything. Will that ever happen to Redwall?"
Maia shook her head quietly, wishing that Arken's mysterious prophecy had never become such common knowledge. It was all fine and well that the older abbeybeasts should try to interpret it, but for Dibbuns to be worried about Redwall simply because of some mysterious words set down years ago by a squirrel probably long dead…well, it was contrary to her nature. She wondered now if she should have told them the story in the first place.
"No, it won't happen to us," said Maia, with far less confidence than she felt. "Martin would warn us if something as terrible as what is described in the Riddle will come to Redwall. Don't worry, Redwall is perfectly safe. Do you have any idea how many warlords have died trying to take this Abbey?"
"Oh, probably hundreds!" said the irrepressible Traye. "Cluny the Scourge, Slagar the Cruel, Gulo the Savage, Ublaz Mad-Eyes, Damaug Warfang…all of them defeated and slain!"
"Yes," said Maia. "But those are all stories for another time."
Turning away from the Dibbuns, Maia's face creased with anxiety as she saw the elderly infirmary keeper, the mouse Sister Marian, motion toward her with one paw. Ordering the Dibbuns to remain where they were, Maia stepped over to Marian. The mouse sister looked distressed and fearful.
"What's wrong? Has the situation below worsened?" asked Maia.
"Follow me," said Marian. "I'll take the Dibbuns and put them to bed. You need to meet with Abbot Tyrn and the others. There's been a…development."
Anxiety making her heart throb, Maia walked down the staircase leading from the rampart and into the main abbey building, scattering early morning dew around her. The big badger stepped into the Great Hall, where two elderly mice clad in Redwall habits were waiting for them. Abbot Tyrn, the elder of the two, had taken over from old Abbess Kara, who had in turn taken over from old Abbot Thibb. He was a wise old mouse, so the obvious distress on the Abbot's face worried Maia. Looking to Brother Alfin, she saw the Abbot's anxiety mirrored on his own face.
"What's happened? Has one of the squirrelbabes died?" asked Maia. Sister Marian had been working all night to keep both of the mother squirrels healthy. The sister was optimistic both of them would survive. Surely one of them couldn't have died.
"No," said Abbot Tyrn. "Both of them are healthy. Indeed, both of the mothers are healthy as well. It's just that…well, you'll have to see for yourself."
Maia stepped over the threshold and into the Abbey. All around her, the Abbeybeasts were trying to act as normally as possible, but Maia could feel the tension in the air.
The father Abbot led her to the edge of a small cot, where two small squirrelbabes, a male and a female, lay, helpless. Their eyes were still half closed. Both looked healthy and well, and both of the mothers were resting, oblivious to the tension around them. Several brothers and sisters were caring for the two squirrelbabes, but Maia could feel their anxiety as well.
"What's wrong?" asked Maia quietly. "They're both healthy. They'll both live."
In answer, Abbot Tyrn pointed at the cot. Maia followed his hand and peered over at the female squirrelbabe. For a moment, the squirrel's eyes opened, and Maia almost gasped aloud in shock. Now she understood the Abbot's anxiety.
The female squirrelbabe's eyes did not match. One was the color of dark almond, but the other was almost jade green.
The sun rising over the Northern Mountains shone down upon the ferret warlord Rivan Fireclaw, ruler of the Twisting Flame horde. Standing in the ransacked, pitifully small fortress that had once belonged to the badger known as Gorseclaw, Rivan gave a smile colder than the ice of a Northern Winter. His horde of skilled warriors had easily breached the ancient building, ransacked it, and killed Gorseclaw and his defenders, about twoscore fighting hares.
Now Rivan Fireclaw stood over the corpse of the dead badger, his knife still buried in Gorseclaw's heart. Reaching down, the ferret pulled the blade free from the corpse of the badger lord. His bloodwrath had proven to be no match for the Twisting Flame Horde.
Despite his youth, Rivan was perhaps the most dangerous commander the horde had ever possessed. Before Rivan had taken command, the Twisting Flame had been little more than a fairly large clan of Northern Mountain vermin, powerful and with a reputation for savagery, but nothing extremely powerful. His father had conquered many of the vermin tribes which surrounded him; Rivan had completed the job, and wiped out several clans to the last surviving being.
After that, no one dared resist the might of Rivan Fireclaw. The warlord had united every one of the clans of the Northern Mountains into a single horde, whose name was spoken of in fear throughout all of north Mossflower. The Twisting Flame horde!
The ferret chieftain was armored in ornate armor emblazoned with his personal insignia: a column of fire which spiraled and twisted upward, as though trying to burn the heavens themselves. His eyes were dark, but they burned with a cold, malevolent smoldering red intensity, like twin shards of icy glass.
Standing beside Rivan, his second in command, Icecloak, an ermine who wore a cloak as white as his fur and carried the personal standard of the Twisting Flame, stood beside him, followed by several of the horde's senior commanders. The ermine's black eyes flashed with triumph as he reported to his warlord.
"Every one of the defenders has been wiped out to a man, my lord," said Icecloak. While the sight of the ermine would have been enough to chill must beings into submission, even Icecloak feared the cold, icy aura of power that surrounded Rivan Fireclaw. "We lost a little over a score of soldiers, as well as several of our mole allies."
"Those losses are negligible," said Rivan. His voice was cold and slightly high-pitched and nasal, rasping. "The horde will be fit for travel by tomorrow."
Icecloak nodded once, and turned to relay Rivan's order to the horde. However, he was stopped at once as Rivan reached out a single hand and touched his shoulder. "I will speak to them," he said quietly. Stepping forth from the shadows, Rivan Fireclaw strode outside the building and stood out in front of his horde. The ferret removed his demonic lacquered helmet, revealing a handsome, if coldly drawn, face beneath.
The ferret spoke softly, but with undeniable authority. The moment the horde, which was composed of over one thousand vermin, saw their ruler, they grew quiet, staring up at Rivan with anticipation. Beside him, several of his commanders took their places behind him, including Icecloak and the powerfully built weasel general known as Scythe and his seer, the vixen Shale.
"The time is close," Rivan began. "We are drawing near to our greatest prize. Devastating the northlands is a start. Unifying all of us into one tribe solidified our control over this region.
"But we will gain far more than that," said Rivan. "I have been to Mossflower Wood, if only to lead scouting forays. And we have all heard tales of the riches and glory that awaits any who can take it.
"But it is so much more," Rivan said, voice lowering still softer. The vermin leaned closer, their eyes widening with anticipation. "I know secrets so great that it will make this place a domain worthy of the Twisting Flame. Tales of a mountain fortress ruled by Badgers and guarded by hares. They will all fall as easily before our might as these did. And nothing stands in our path except a small fortress defended only by mice, shrews, and other weak woodland creatures. We shall conquer the Abbey of Redwall!"
And Riven Fireclaw smiled down upon his soldiers as dawn broke, impassive and uncaring, overhead. The ferret warlord's smile was as cold as the ice which froze entire lakes, and promised nothing but death or servitude for the creatures of Redwall Abbey and Mossflower Wood.
Every one of Redwall Abbey’s senior elders had gathered in the Cavern Hole for council. Abbot Tyrn looked around him, seeing his own solemn, worried expression mirrored on the faces of all of those around him. Brother Rall and Brother Alfin took position on either side of Abbot Tyrn, while Sister Nara and Foremole Bario took up positions on the opposite side of the table. Next to Foremole sat the dependable Skipper of Otters, a veteran of many battles, and then Maia, the venerable badger mother. The other sisters and brothers, including Sister Marian and Sister Kae, were gathered around them.
As the Father Abbot was about to speak, the whispered conversations died to an immediate halt. Abbot Tyrn readjusted his glasses to better make out the parchment before him, the paper that Arken, the last champion of Redwall, had left behind him before he took the sword of Martin the Warrior with him and departed the Abbey forever.
“Friends, brothers, and sisters, thank you for coming. I realize this may seem trivial, as it merely regards one of the squirrelbabes born this morning. But I feel that since many of you believe that this squirrel is one of the beings mentioned in Arken’s Riddle we must have this discussion now.”
“Arken’s Riddle!” said Sister Kae the mouse with slight disdain. “I think that squirrel had one too many knocks on the head from his battles with vermin. There’s nothing wrong with young Raya; or Rodan either!”
“Still, we must always hold the possibility that Arken actually received a message from Martin,” said the Abbot solemnly. “I knew Arken in my youth; he was a dependable and worthy champion. He would not have departed Redwall unless he was sure he’d received an authentic message from Martin the Warrior. This message did predict the coming of two squirrels who would seek the Abbey ‘blue stone’, whatever that means, and like it or not, we must consider the possibility that Raya and Rodan are the squirrels mentioned in the Riddle.”
Abbot Tyrn knew that Melania and Oakan, the parents of Rodan, were not present, nor was Raya’s mother and only surviving parent, the squirrel mother Nalia. Tyrn felt terrible, going behind their back like this, but he knew the idea that there was some problem with both their children would wound all three of the parents deeply. Still, it was a topic that needed discussing.
“I say that we read the Riddle aloud. I am sure that all of you are familiar with it, but it doesn’t hurt for us to hear it again.”
Maia and Brother Alfin both nodded, and Tyrn lifted the faded scrap of parchment and read aloud,
The Abbey blue stone must be found or all Mossflower Wood shall fall.
My Last secret lies in the second, in the words I wrote and gave, I have seen
Two Abbey squirrels, one light, one dark, will save the abbey brave
Warrior Must take up the sword, most powerful a tool
But Alas when the green-black eyed joins flame, the fire king shall rule
And No that while all hope seems lost,
Ask Do as the seekers still fight?
If Answer is yes, a chance remains toEnd Strong rule of darkness, fire and night.
“There are several irregularities in the original copy of the Riddle,” said Tyrn, as he finished. “It seems that many words are capitalized that should not be, and there’s one grammatical error where the word ‘no’ is used in place of ‘know.’”
“Arken,” Sister Kae sniffed. “Could never spell properly.”
“Perhaps not,” said Tyrn. “That is not for me to judge. But I’d like to know why some letters are capitalized and others are not. It seems odd.”
“Still, while we may not be able to understand Arken’s spelling errors,” Maia interjected, “Perhaps we should look at the message he’s trying to tell us, instead. It’s clear that Martin is saying through Arken that some threat is approaching, though what exactly, I’m not sure. Have you ever heard of something called the ‘twisted flame’, Abbot?”
“Never,” said Tyrn at once. “Perhaps Skipper has, or Foremole?”
“No,” said Skipper of Otters. “I’ve never heard of anything or anyone known as the ‘twisted flame’. I’ll ask my otters, but I doubt they know anything. If the twisted flame was ever in Mossflower before, then my ottercrew would know about it.”
Foremole wordlessly shook his head. Obviously none of the Abbeybeasts had ever heard of anything known that called itself the twisted flame before. Abbot Tyrn hesitated for a moment and then asked. “Okay. So if no one has heard of the Twisted Flame, has anyone heard of a being who calls himself the Fire King?”
Again, there was silence as beings thought, but Tyrn could tell that the title wasn’t familiar to the Redwallers.
“Well, we would have told you a long time ago had we heard of either,” said Kae.
“We’ve only been trying to interpret the meaning of the Riddle for the past fifteen seasons.”
“Kae’s right,” said Tyrn. “Besides, the young squirrels, both Raya and Rodan, can’t even talk yet.”
“Indeed, it’s foolish to get worked up about this,” Brother Alfin said. “However,
I feel as though some nameless, formless danger is approaching. I can feel it, somehow.”
“If there was danger, then surely Martin would have spoken by now,” said Sister Kae.
Foremole was the next to offer a piece of good old mole logic, “Burr, if Marthen ‘e Wurrier ‘asn’t spoke, but ‘you ‘eel danger, I’d stay ‘n alert, but not panic, aye.”
“Yes indeed,” said Skipper of Otters. “I’ll get some of my otters together; send a few of them out to scout out Mossflower. If there’s a being who calls himself the fire king out there, and he wants Redwall, then we’ll give him fire!”
A small cheer greeted his words as the tension in the room seemed to relax visibly. Abbot Tyrn gave a smile that did not quite reach his eyes. He, too, could feel the tension that Maia and Alfin had described. It was as though, despite the sunlight that streamed down upon Redwall, a palpable feeling of gloom had settled upon the abbey, as though warning was calling out from far away, in the distance.
Above, in the infirmary, a small crowd of Redwallers had gathered around Oakan and Melania, the young squirrel Rodan’s parents, along with Naila, Raya’s mother. Naila’s husband had been killed in a raid by a group of wandering stoats only a few weeks ago, her gaze was sad as she stared at the young squirrel, who resembled her closely. However, her jawline structure was more high-boned, closer to her father in that respect.
If only you had survived to see your daughter, she thought quietly. She smiled slightly as Rodan, held in his mother’s arms, tried to pull away momentarily before the effort caused him to fall still. For a moment, Raya opened her eyes, one almond as a squirrel’s should be, the other jade green, and Naila suddenly thought of the words of the Riddle.
But alas when the green-black eyed joins flame, the fire king shall rule.
“That will never happen,” she whispered quietly, staring into Raya’s innocent, open eyes. “I promise. We’re at Redwall, and we’re safe.”
That night, as Abbot Tyrn slept, he dreamed of a mouse warrior he recognized as Martin, carrying the famed lost sword. The mouse warrior’s outline seemed blurred, as though he was calling out across a great distance for his voice to reach them.
And darkness rises up once more,
Defend the Abbey of Redwall,For soon shall come the storm of war.
Rivan Fireclaw and the Twisting Flame Horde had arrived in Mossflower Wood. Since their arrival, Rivan had been meticulous in his attempts to conceal his horde’s arrival; he’d sent them into Mossflower in small groups, while his main army waited over the ridges of a few small hills. Rivan himself, Icecloak, a small group of about twenty of his elite warriors including Scythe, and the seer known as Shale were encamped on the outskirts of the wood, waiting for the three trackers he’d sent out two hours previously.
Rivan was adept at reading the mood of his horde. Many vermin were a superstitious lot, he knew, Shale’s predictions of the coming triumph over Redwall Abbey, the only fortress that stood in his way of dominion over all Mossflower, had whipped many of them into a fanatical frenzy. Even his more disciplined, hardened inner core of followers, who had no care for the foolishness of omens, were filled with anticipation for the coming triumph.
But Rivan could sense that he had not quite converted one being here to his cause. One being here, one of Icecloak’s ermine, seemed not fearful- Rivan had never seen the ermine shrink from any challenge- but slightly apprehensive as he watched Rivan’s guards, weapons drawn and camouflaged by their armor, standing amidst the lengthening shadows.
Rivan Fireclaw walked over to the ermine, who lowered his head in deference to Fireclaw. Icecloak simply met his gaze. His deputy respected, if not completely feared the ferret warlord, and that made him the perfect second-in-command. Rivan valued his opinion highly and wanted to know what it was that made one of his soldiers so apprehensive of this venture, which would be their greatest triumph.
“Why so tense, Frostclaw?” Rivan asked the ermine casually. Even now, his voice was a low whisper. “Do you fear the coming battle?”
“I fear nobeast that walks upon this earth, Lord Fireclaw,” said the ermine known as Frostclaw. It was only somewhat true. While Frostclaw had faced many beings in his lifetime, none had been like Rivan. The young ferret warlord had a fierce, dark charisma about him, and an aura of palpable ice colder than the bleakest winter hung about him. He hesitated to share his opinion with the warlord.
Seeing him hesitate, Rivan said, “Go on, Frostclaw. I would like your opinion. What makes you so tentative about this, which will be our greatest triumph?”
“So many beings have failed to take Redwall Abbey, my Lord,” said Frostclaw. “Everybeast knows their names, Slagar the Cruel, Cluny the Scourge, Razzid Wearat, Vizka Longtooth- every one of them are now dead, all killed by the Abbey warriors within those walls. They must be great warriors if so many warlords have been killed in combat with them."
Rivan was ready to speak even before Frostclaw had finished. He’d guessed that it was the Abbey’s fearsome reputation that caused Frostclaw to shrink in fear.
“Yes, many beings have tried and failed to take Redwall, it is true. No doubt the creatures within Redwall Abbey are dangerous, intelligent combatants.
“But it is not any of these things that makes them so dangerous, Frostclaw,” said Rivan. “Warriors live and die by their reputation, by the aura of fear they create around them. Those who believe they cannot take Redwall Abbey will fail because they believed they could not. Tactical strategy is a second priority compared to a simple question- why? Why do beings fight? The creatures of Redwall Abbey fight to defend their homeland. A few beings with a cause they believe is right and noble are far more dangerous than an army who follows their leader out of fear alone. In some cases, love is more powerful than fear. A being that fights out of love for something or someone will destroy a being whose only motivation is fear, which is why Redwall has never been taken.”
Rivan gestured downward to a thicket of bushes, where a tall laburnum sapling was slowing growing taller. Meanwhile, the smaller oak sapling next to it, shaded by the laburnum’s far taller trunk and its roots and soil stifled by the invasive laburnum, was far smaller and weaker.
“See that tree there, the oak sapling?” Rivan asked. “That oak could have grown to become a king of the forest. But instead it will be stifled and destroyed by the laburnum, which has cut all of its survival lines off. The tree has lost hope for survival. It is dying. Oh, it still fights because it cannot understand it has lost, but it fights hopelessly, because the laburnum tree has destroyed its last hope.
“In order to break Redwall, we must break their fighting spirit,” said Rivan. “We must stifle and choke their hope, as the laburnum has done to the oak. Like the laburnum, we must win the war before the creatures of Redwall have realized they have lost. None of the other attackers of the Abbey ever managed to do that. Do you know why?”
Frostclaw wordlessly shook his head, and Rivan gestured again to the laburnum and the oak. “Positioning,” said the ferret to the ermine. “Positioning is everything when it comes to battle. Had that laburnum seed not grown before the oak had, or instead landed further away from the oak, in the end the oak tree would live far longer than the laburnum, who would not endure long competing against a grown oak.
“None of the attackers of Redwall were prepared enough to position their forces in ways to counter every one of the strategies Redwall has to offer. And I have seen Redwall, Frostclaw. I understand what motivates them, what drives them to fight. And, as the laburnum has done to the oak, we will strangle and choke their hope for survival. Redwall must be defeated before they even know they are under attack, and I will be the one to do it.”
Frostclaw simply stared at his leader, understanding beginning to dawn on his features. Rivan saw to his satisfaction that all of his patrol had been listening to what he’d said, and he could feel that he had quelled any remaining doubts any of his allies had held about this venture.
“Yes, my Lord,” said Frostclaw. Rivan could read the anticipation on his features like an open book, and smiled inwardly. His elite had been ready to fight for him before, now he knew with certainty they would be willing to die for him. And the rest of his forces would follow the example of their commanders.
But only he, Icecloak, and Shale knew the true reason for the invasion of Redwall
Abbey. The rest of the horde thought that Redwall was merely a convenient fortress for Rivan to bring the rest of Mossflower and eventually the mountain fortress Salamandastron under his control. But while what Rivan had told the horde was the truth, it was not the whole truth.
Icecloak walked over to him, smiling thinly. “Darkfur and his patrol have returned, Lord Fireclaw,” the ermine said, lifting the twisting flame staff that was Rivan’s personal standard. “They bring with them two captives, otters, I believe they are called.”
Rivan’s interest was piqued at once. “Otters? Did they say where they came from?”
“No,” said Icecloak. “But one of them wore a Redwall habit beneath his armor.”
Rivan gave no sign of his satisfaction at the news, merely beckoned with one gloved finger. “Bring them before me, but make sure they do not learn my name. I have a use for them.”
Icecloak nodded. Rivan had instructed all of his commanders not to give word of any information to the captives, whether it was names, troop numbers, or plans.
Every one of his commanders knew of the plan that Rivan had for any captives that were taken from Redwall, there was no reason for him to give any more orders. Silently Rivan slipped into the shadows, his black studded leather armor half-hiding him. He pulled his helmet, over his features, giving him a demonic appearance in the darkness and the light from the vermin campfires.
Now let us see what our captives know about the Abbey of Redwall.
The weasel Darkfur and two stoats led the two otter captives, who were bound but not gagged, before what appeared to be their commander, an ermine garbed in fine silk and carrying a staff that resembled a burning torch.
No, thought the ottermaid, whose name was Ravenna. She couldn’t believe they’d been captured so easily. The vermin had sprung from nowhere and subdued them both, dragging them back here despite their protests. All of them, including their captor, Darkfur, were skilled warriors.
“Bow!” ordered Darkfur, giving the ottermaid Ravenna a sharp kick in the side.
“Never!” snarled the male otter, Sarrow. “We do not bow to any vermin leaders, or to you, weasel!”
Then a ferret stepped from the shadows. As he materialized seemingly from nowhere, both of the otters gave a small gasp of fear. They could feel the ferret leader’s icy presence, and both of them shivered in apprehension.
The ferret in black armor lifted his demonic, lacquered helmet, revealing his handsome features beneath. He gave a charming smile, and his eyes grew warm.
“Greetings, otters. May I ask your names?” His voice had a pleasant quality to it, like a brook running smoothly across rocks.
Sarrow was about to speak when all at once he bit his tongue. The warlord’s elegant charm was so at odds with the horrifying darkness he’d felt at first that he’d almost answered the ferret warlord. He glanced Ravenna, and knew she’d been about to do the same.
“Why should we answer you? Your scummy vermin servants hauled us here as captives!”
“I apologize,” said the ferret leader, his voice still calm. Perfect. “It was an unfortunate necessity. Please share your names with me. If nothing else, I think
I should call you something other than ‘otters’, do you not?”
In the half light and the almost hypnotic stare of the ferret lord’s sparkling dark eyes, Sarrow felt his self-control beginning to give way. What harm could it do? It wasn’t like that told the ferret anything about where they came from.
“I am Sarrow,” he said.
“And I am Ravenna,” said the female otter. “What do they call you?”
“My name is not important,” said the ferret with a lazy, perfect smile. “All you need to know is that I can interpret more from your answer than you think. Let’s talk about you for now. I see you come from Redwall Abbey,” he said, gesturing to Sarrow’s habit.
“Yes!” said Sarrow savagely before Ravenna could stop him. “And we have more warriors than you can gather! When they find out what you’ve done to us they’ll kill you all!”
Ravenna squeezed his paw tightly in warning. Not only had Sarrow confirmed the ferret warlord’s question, he’d given the ferret leverage for still more questions, while they still knew nothing about him.
“Really?” asked the warlord calmly. “How many?”
“More than-“ Sarrow began, but Ravenna cut him off.
“No!” she yelled. “We will not tell you!”
Immediately freed from the ferret warlord’s influence, Sarrow shook his head, momentarily confused. He’d been about to volunteer more information to him. How could that be? How had the warlord managed to gain so much information from them so quickly?
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes!” said both of the otters simultaneously.
“Very well,” said the ferret lord calmly. “Perhaps you will be more open to persuasion after spending a night in Mossflower Wood.”
Rivan Fireclaw turned to the two beings standing beside him. “Darkfur, Shale, bind these two Redwall otters and appoint two guards to watch over them through the night. You know what to do.”
Darkfur nodded once, and then he and Shale led the otters into the darkness.
Once Rivan was sure they were out of earshot, he turned to Scythe and Icecloak.
“Fortune favors the bold,” he said.
“It does indeed,” said Icecloak.
“Scythe, take three of your guards and prepare the army for travel.” Rivan ordered. “We are bringing them into Mossflower. Be sure that both siege towers and the catapults are ready.”
“Yes, Lord Fireclaw.”
Rivan smiled with satisfaction, staring back at the laburnum and the oak. So much could be learned simply by studying nature around them. It was filled with so many examples and strategies to be gained and used against your foes. It had taught him how to win, time and time again.
He had studied Redwall. He knew how they thought, what their responses would be. And Riven had already laid the first step in his plan to bring the Abbey under his control.
Both of the stoat guards had long since fallen asleep by midnight, but both Sarrow and Ravenna were still wide awake. Bound and gagged, they could barely move and could not speak.
Ravenna could see the fear in Sarrow’s eyes, and knew it was reflected in her own. In vain she strove against her bonds, trying desperately to break free-
One small segment of the rope burst as she pulled against it. Just one small piece of rope.
But it was enough.
Colonel Tirian Redblade of the Long Patrol was up early. Dressed rather simply for a Long Patrol hare of his stature, with only a small medal to proclaim his status, he knocked quietly on the door to the private chambers of Badger Lord Rawn Wildstripe.
“Come in,” Rawn said, raising his voice slightly. Tirian stepped silently through the open doors and stood before the youthful Badger Lord. He’d only recently succeeded his mother, Maia Wildstripe, as ruler of the mountain, and, like Tirian, he was still rather youthful. Tirian Redblade was slightly older than the Badger Lord, and had only recently won his promotion to Colonel during the battles against the Searat Captain Naaxt Whitespear.
“What do you wish to tell me, my friend? Have the searats returned?” Rawn asked Tirian, his voice calm. But Tirian knew the badger Lord well enough to understand that he knew something was wrong if Redblade would bother him so early in the morning.
“No, sah, the searats won’t come anywhere near our mountain if they know what’s good for them,” he said. “Ah think we gave Whitespear and his bally chaps a run for their money for once. Nah, the reason I’m here is because of this dream I had last night. It was of a mouse warrior, wielding a sword, and he called to me from the distance, warning me of some danger. Then I saw the walls of Redwall Abbey, and a dark shadow falling over the ramparts. I’m not sure, sah, but I think Redwall’s in trouble!”
“Redwall? In danger?” Rawn asked. “Well, the mouse from your dream is obviously Martin the Warrior, the long dead hero of Redwall who still helps them in times of need. In any event, it bears checking out. I have heard tales of a vermin leader from the northlands who leads a horde called the Twisting Flame. At the very least, it may be wise if we send some Long Patrol hares, if only to make sure Redwall is safe.”
“I shall take one hundred of my best,” said Tirian Redblade. “And if any vermin or danger threatens Redwall- be it these Twisting Flame buckoes or something completely different- will be given the Long Patrol welcome. Blood ‘n’ vinegar!”
Ravenna cut the last of the bonds which held Sarrow and helped the otter to his feet. “There,” she said. “We have to get out of here now, before the vermin come back to investigate.”
Sarrow could only nod wordlessly as he and Ravenna slipped into the shadows, away from the two sleeping stoats. They didn’t dare look back.
When Ravenna judged they were a safe distance away and her eyes had adjusted to the gloom of the nighttime Mossflower, she looked around her. No moon shown in the sky, and dark clouds hid the stars from view. Still, Ravenna, though young, was one of Skipper’s more accomplished trackers. She could find the way back to Redwall from here.
Looking back in the direction of the sleeping stoats, Ravenna couldn’t help but smile. She wished she could have seen the expression on the ferret leader’s face when he realized that both of his captives had escaped!
From his position, concealed in the shadows of the tall, shady grove, Rivan Fireclaw watched as Ravenna and Sarrow slipped away into the shadows. He smiled in satisfaction. Not only had they thought they’d escaped on their own, they were giving his horde a trail to follow directly into Mossflower Wood to Redwall Abbey.
And they had set the stage for the next piece of his plan.
“Success,” he said to Darkfur, the weasel captain’s face twisted into a smirk. “The prisoners have escaped.”
Rivan’s hypnotic eyes flashed momentarily with triumph as he saw the rest of his patrol approaching him, fully armed. He saw at once the look on Shale’s face and knew at once that the horde was on the move.
“Gather the horde,” ordered Rivan. “Tonight we march into Mossflower Wood!”
The fifth day after the birth of the two young squirrels Rodan and Raya dawned clear and cold, a throwback to the cold days of spring before summer had arrived. Abbot Tyrn and Brother Alfin sat in Cavern Hole. Brother Alfin smiled, watching the Dibbuns run circles around Maia, dancing along with the badger mother.
“They certainly know how to have fun, don’t they?” said Brother Alfin. “Even on days like these, when winter’s chill comes back to bite us in the middle of summer, they’re still playing outside happily.”
“We should get out there,” said Tyrn. Alfin looked at him. “I’m getting far too old to go out there in this weather,” he said. “But let’s round up Sister Marian and Brother Robin. Maybe we can enjoy some tea together upon the walls while we watch the Dibbuns play.”
“Sounds like a grand old plan,” said Tyrn, clapping the older mouse on the back conspiratorially. “Let’s go, it’ll take our mind off the Riddle for a few hours, I hope.”
The two mice walked quietly through the hall and out of Cavern Hole, passing by the kitchens as they went. Friar Tura Sickleback, the brother of the Cellarhog Drogg Sickleback, waved to them from inside the kitchen, were the delicious aroma of pies wafted through the air to Tyrn and Alfin.
At the door of Cavern Hole, Brother Robin was holding a hushed conversation with Skipper. The Otter seemed agitated, and seeing Tyrn and Alfin, met their eyes.
“One of Skipper’s otter patrols just returned. They were captured by a vermin
band, but escaped. There are nearly thirty warlike vermin loose in Mossflower!”
“Thirty?” asked the Abbot, rather alarmed. Immediately Skipper and Robin recounted the entire tale that Ravenna and Sarrow had told them, including how they’d escaped. The Abbot’s face grew more and more alarmed as they described Rivan Fireclaw to them.
“We have to find a way to stop them before they reach Redwall. While I doubt thirty vermin could conquer the Abbey, they could cause the deaths of many Redwallers. Do whatever you can to prevent the vermin from reaching the Abbey!”
“Permission to take our otter patrols out to take down this vermin threat?” Skipper asked the Abbot. “By all accounts they’re still a few days’ march from Redwall. Hopefully we’ll be able to overtake and finish the vermin scum before they knew what hit them.”
“Very well,” said Tyrn. “But be careful. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. Perhaps we should contact our old allies, the Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower. The Guosim would be more than happy to help out against a vermin band.”
“Ah, we have nearly fifty otters on hand right now, more when we’re assembled at full strength,” said Skipper. “A band of thirty vermin won’t be a problem. We’ll mop this threat up before they come within a day’s march from Redwall.”