Cabin Fever

April 7, 2011

Extract from the writings of Raimun, recorder of Redwall Abbey:

It has been a cruel winter, friends, but it is over at last. As the seasons change, we all mourn those of us that did not make it through the cold. The elders say that this was the shortest winter in memory. How sad it is that at a time we usually associate with new life our minds our instead turned to death. What a time to meditate on life’s cruel little ironies. Spring may be in the air, but I have yet to feel its joy.

When the snow first fell, the abbot dismissed it as merely a light fluff, although others, especially the Skipper, were not so sure. Skipper expressed worry about our food stocks and wanted to have a longer harvest, although the Abbott wouldn’t hear of it. Our dibbuns played in the snow, laughing and cheering as they threw powdery clumps at one another. They jumped and tumbled, crashing into the snow and then leaping out of it again, nimble and free as could be. I wished I could enjoy it with them, especially when they started building snow forts, just as we built them when I was a dibbun. I sat with my hot cider and watched how Skipper generously aided those dibbuns with the construction of their shields! I remember going inside, thinking that it was going to be a pleasant winter regardless of what Skipper thought. I was wrong. So wrong it pains me to recall the magnitude of my folly.

There was a sudden blizzard that night, and in my old age I had forgotten to perform the roll call for the dibbuns, a lapse that will weigh on my for the rest of my seasons. It was Skipper who brought to my attention that a vole babe and a leveret were missing. We searched high and low, frantically searching under beds and into cupboards, checking every nook and cranny, every cellar and tower, every place where any of the adults could recall playing as dibbuns. We turned the Abbey inside out in our search, never once daring to think what we all knew in our hearts. The abbot suggested going outside to search. I said no, and Skipper backed me, declaring that dibbuns would have come knocking on our doors if they had been caught in the snow. We thought that the freezing storm would abate, and that in the morning, we would wake to a clear sky and maybe hot scones.

We never found them, and our grief was compounded by a rash of other disappearances after that. The abbot suspected that searchers sent after the lost babes had gotten stuck in the frigid woods after dark. Then the families of the lost went looking for them, and often failed to return as well. There were rumors of vermin, whole gangs of them. As the days would pass, Skipper looked grimmer and sadder over time as he stood on the wall tops with a watchful eye, day after day after day. He had appointed himself the abbey warrior quite some time ago, and he is the one responsible for our safety. I cannot imagine his anguish at failing so badly at protecting the lives of those who dwell in Redwall.

The situation grew more dire as the disappearances accelerated. Whole families would vanish with no explanation. The search parties grew large and more heavily armed, but to no avail, and it soon became hard to find volunteers for yet further expeditions when so many failed to return. Eventually the Abbey was in grave danger of losing its few remaining inhabitants. The attrition was so bad that guards were put on watch to keep track of everybeast leaving the Abbey, and to make sure they all had valid reasons to venture out into an increasingly hostile Mossflower. Some of them returned without incident, while others vanished without a trace. The abbot could not tolerate these losses, as the winter grew bleaker and there were not enough beasts to tend to every needed position. Those who caught cold had no nurses, the casks in the cellar collected dust, and the bell never rang. With our warrior stretched as thin as they were, vermin of every type became more brazen, with robberies and pillaging of the less mysterious variety increasing everywhere. Father Abbot got so angry that one morning he went up to the wall, faced Mossflower Woods and shouted that those vanishings had malice behind them. In one statement, he brought forth our darkest fears, that the missing beasts were lost forever.

Skipper spent quite a lot of time in Great Hall, staring at the Martin’s Tapestry. I think he was waiting for the warrior to give him some sort of signal. Sometimes the gatekeeper and I would join him on occasion. What were we looking for? What did we see? Death and destruction…glorified as an ideal. It unsettles some of us, makes us question where we came from and how we got here. Some continue to embrace and adore the old ways, while others are trying to find another way. Oh…ignore that last bit; I must have lost my train of thought. Funny how we wander in our old age, where was I?
I had just gotten to the important part…oh yes. You see, friends, the Abbot was right. The bodies came back…. notice I said not beasts, but bodies. Corpses. They were once our friends and brothers, but now they reside in Dark Forest.

The first were the bodies of Sister Thistledown, the old squirrel healer, and her helpers Chamomile and Ruslen, a pair of mice on that awkard ledge between dibbunhood and maturity. Their bodies were tossed unceremoniously onto the ground, their throats slashed with such force as to almost sever Chamomile’s head. At sunrise, the lookout saw them in front of the Main Abbey gate. There was silence when the gatekeeper opened the grand double doors to full view of everybeast on that lawn. I still wish with all my heart that he had waited to open the doors rather than just flinging them open immediately. I would have given what few seasons remain of my life if it would have spared the remaining dibbuns from seeing what had been done to their friends.

That afternoon, the Abbot put Redwall on Lockdown. Complete lockdown. No one is to enter the abbey or exit it for a space of exactly four seasons. Skipper immediately rallied for exceptions, arguing that his ‘crew’ needed to visit the western shores once every season. The abbot gave in to avoid a public fight, knowing that popular sentiment lay with the brawny otter. However, he mandated that anyone else seeking to work outside must be accompanied by a trained warrior-or three. That was fine with Skipper, so long as he got his exceptions.

Why are we dwelling on death when spring is here? With it come new life, new hope and more possibilities than ever before. I look out my window today and I see the dibbuns playing in the sunshine. Do they mourn their lost companions or do they even care that they even existed? Life should be lived in the present, not the past. To dwell overmuch is to invite anger, which in turn is to open you up to manipulation. That is our creed here at Redwall. Nameday is almost here. Like every other Redwaller, I look forward to the inevitable feasts. While I am sad that I cannot have those woodland mushrooms from last year, the Abbot’s decree must stand.

Please stop by if you ever get the chance. Our doors are open to all beasts, and closed to the inhabitants within. Yes, Nameday feast always welcomes guests. We will drink to good health tonight, and we hope you will too.

Raimun Mouse, Recorder of Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Country, Fifty-seventh Precinct.

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