Here We Are, Juggernaut

June 19, 2011

Under Ripple’s desk.  Behind the bottom step in Great Hall.  Inside the keg of strawberry cordial in the cellar.  In her napping spot by the abbey pond.  In the abbey pond.

Bludd emerged from the water, slipping onto shore like a seal.  Her ears flicked back savagely, scattering droplets, and she uttered a high, worried trill.  Just where did she put that blasted ring?

The wildcat owned little; nothing to match the elaborate cloak pin that Brother Tompkins carried, or even half of the treasure trove of cards and maps that belonged to Ripple.  A roving adventurer couldn’t be weighed down by anything more than what was strictly necessary.  Like her blanket!

The gaudy yellow cloth lay flat like a downed kite in the grass and Bludd hurled herself atop it, rolling over onto her back.  She inhaled it’s scent, comforted by the warm sting of blood, and gazed up at the ragged clouds, black sails unfurled to catch the wind.

The only other thing that truly belong to her, aside from her trusty freebootin’ bandana, was her special treasure: a tarnished silver ring.  Normally it would be tucked away in a pouch she’d cut from her blanket, but she had checked all over and it was gone, disappeared like the White Ghost.  The kitten’s claws slid in and out of her pads; she wasn’t even sure how long it had been missing.

The wildcat closed her eyes and tried to think.   Going back a ways in her memory, she recalled a pair of dusky wings pushing her outside.  Oh!  It could have fallen out there.

In a trice, she was on her footpaws.  The blanket draped over her shoulders, she raced the wind, her arms held out stiffly as if she were a mighty albatross on the hunt.  Spotting her prey, she let out a warbling screech.  Bludd lunged against the unsuspecting gatehouse door with her claws splayed.

“Hahar, ye scurvy dog!  I’ve come ter-” Bludd blinked.  Aloysius looked a lot smaller all of a sudden.

“Oh! Who are you, are you?” the bat perched atop Aloysius’ writing desk asked.  Bludd’s ears quirked apart from one another – And he also sounded like a female!

Obviously, a proper introduction was necessary.  Bludd’s lips curled into a smile that was mostly fang. “Yer a brave ‘un to ax a corsair’s name so freely.”  It was moments like these that she wished she had a cutlass or scimitar to brandish, but she made do with swiping at the air with a thistle-clawed paw. “Ye may call me Bludd, Captain of the Blistered Gullet!”

The bat stared for a whisker-twitch, and then erupted into a fit of clicking giggles.  “Kekekeke! That’s the silliest name for a ship I’ve ever heard, ever heard!”

“Oi!” Bludd’s tail switched in irritation and she crossed her arms.  “What makes yer th’ expert ship name master, then?  Don’t tell me ye gots a ship wot ye thinks is named better?”

“Of course not!  I don’t need a ship.”  The bat spread her wings, grinning cheekily.  “But I’ve seen scads of ’em.”  She tilted her head so high that Bludd could nearly see up her nostrils.  “I’ve been all over, all over!”

The wildcat’s eyes narrowed.  “‘ave ye, now?  Ever been to Sampetra?”

“Of course!  The island is so beautiful, but the creatures there are nasty, nasty!  All sorts of mean pirates and crusty vermin.  A beast like you would be right at home, at home.  We went to a few taverns; they all smelled like dead fish.  There were so many fights!  I saw a rat try to nab a pawful of coins right out of a weasel’s pocket.  He got his tail chopped right off, right off!”  She made a slicing motion with one wing.

The more she heard, the more skepticism disappeared from Bludd’s eyes.  “Cor!  Are there still monitor lizards crawlin’ about there?”

“Uhh…” The bat faltered for a moment.  “I… didn’t see any.  Lizards are tricky, tricky.”

“Oh.” Bludd had heard all she needed to know the bat was a fibber, so there was no use in talking to her anymore. “Well, ‘ave yer seen Ycious about?”

It took the bat a moment to understand.  “Oh, I don’t know where he is.  I was sure there would be something great in here ‘cos he keeps telling me to stay away, but it’s just old books, old books!”  She let out a gusty sigh. “It’s like Uncle Alo knows they’re too dull and was trying to spare me from being bored by them. But adults aren’t nice enough to think like that, think like that.”

Bludd grew deathly still and stared at the bat with eyes that were suddenly filled with a complete and total understanding.  Yes. That’s true. And then her tail flicked and the moment was gone.

“Ye ‘aven’t seen a ring, ‘ave ye?”

“A ring?” The bat made a clicking sound with her fangs and fanned her ears out.  She looked disappointed.  “If Uncle Alo found it, he probably would have stashed it away by now.  Crazy old moth-chaser!”

“Hmmm…”  Bludd paced from one side of the gatehouse to the other, 5 steps each way.  There was a stuffiness in the air and the lemon-sour scent of ancient ink and wizened pages wafted over the wildcat like an invitation to break things.  “‘ow spittin’ ticked d’yer think Ycious would get if we searched the place ourselves?”

The bat’s eyes lit up.  “Oh, he’d be furious, furious!”  She opened a drawer, but then looked up right after.  The smile on her face made her muzzle positively vulpine. “By the way, my name’s Eilonwy.”

The two youngsters swept over the neatly-ordered confines of the gatehouse like a hurricane.  Books were tossed, parchment pages scattered, scrolls unraveled themselves and tumbled earthward in serpentine dances.  But where was that ring?

The door opened.  Bludd and Eilonwy froze, the former peering down from her tenuous perch atop a bookshelf.  Aloysius’ voice was eerily soft and controlled.  “…Get… get out.  Get out.  Now.”

They scampered, each one sprinting off in a different direction.

Safe once more under a mantle of clouds, Bludd felt the slightest pang of guilt; it was one thing when grown beasts yelled and threw a fit.  Aloysius looked as though he was seconds away from meeting Vulpuz.  She hadn’t meant to upset him that much…

She turned around, her jaw set.  She would apologize this time.  Aloysius wasn’t like Isidore, she told herself.  He’d be the kind of grownbeast who would listen.  She gulped; hopefully.

“Ah, Bludd.  Come here, my child.”  Bludd kept the growl inside her chest as she turned to wave to Abbot Carter.   The otter’s eyes crinkled.  “Come with me, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”

She opened her mouth, but then closed it again and allowed the otter to lead her toward the abbey.  She glanced back at the gatehouse with longing, her tail curling nervously.  Well… maybe he’ll be feeling better later, anyway. She didn’t want to make the Abbot cross with her again by admitting that she’d wrecked Aloysius’ study.

They walked in peaceful silence, through the door and into the entrance hall.  At length, the abbot cleared his throat.  “Now, Bludd.  Have you given any thought to the possibility of staying here?”

Bludd stopped pretending to skewer the otter’s head between her clawtips and put on a smile as he turned to face her.  “Cor, sir, ain’t I stuck ‘ere anyway?  I mean, not that I don’t loves it, but-”

Carter’s chuckling cut her off.  “No, no, that’s not what I meant.  Have you given any thought to becoming an Abbey Sister?”  He spread his paws.  “Our gates are open to anybeast who wishes, and I know that Ripple would be delighted if you chose to stay.”

Any objections Bludd might have had fizzled and popped like the bubbles in strawberry fizz at the mention of Ripple, and she couldn’t bring herself to look at the Abbot.  The very idea of being trapped in any one place forever – She trilled anxiously, staring at the armored mouse on the tapestry in front of her.

“Don’t worry, my child.  You don’t have to make up your mind right now.  And if you do choose to continue your travels, nobeast will hold it against you.  I promise.”  He paused.  “But… there was actually something else I needed to tell you.  Bludd, you know about Martin the Warrior, correct?”

The cat was all smiles.  “Sure do!  e’s a champion fighter, an expert swordsbeast an’ slayer!” The wildcat jabbed out, impaling imaginary foes on the invisible blade of Martin.

“Well, now, keep in mind that Martin was a wise and kindhearted leader.  There was – is – much more to him than fighting.  But yet…”  Carter’s brow knit, as if he wasn’t quite sure how to continue.  “I had a dream just recently.  Martin showed me a vision of the future, and of the beast who he wished to become our warrior.  This creature fought with all the grace of a seasoned veteran, with a skill so fantastic that she could pierce the foebeast’s very shadow.” He stared directly at Bludd.  “It was a fully-grown wildcat, Bludd.  There is no doubt in my mind that it was you.

Bludd’s eyes shone like full moons and could have measured twice as big around. “Yer serious?!” If it was true, not even Gabool himself would be as feared!  She would rule the seas!

Carter nodded gravely, setting his jaw.  “It’s true… although certainly not anything to be happy about.  But yet with times as they are, I would have you begin combat training immediately.  And I will be the one to teach you.”

“You know ‘ow ter use Martin’s sword?” Bludd asked, wonder in even her whiskers.  The Abbot shook his head.

“A simple sword will not be enough, I’m afraid.  Even the Sword of Martin.  Come with me.”

All the while they were traveling, Bludd’s mind raced like a pike in search of blood.  What sort of weapon could it be?  A massive javelin as tall as the Skipper?  A bone-white scythe, even sharper and more gristly than the one Vulpuz carried?  An enormous obsidian cutlass hung with the skulls of Redwall’s enemies?  The kitten jigged behind Carter as he lead her into his study and went about searching for something in his desk.

“Ah, here we are.”  Finally, he lifted something up and out.  Bludd peered closer.  “This,” Carter said, “is what Martin wished for you to wield.”  He showed the cat the heavy flintlock pistol.  “Somebeasts call it a pawheld dragon.  With this, you can use the very power of lightning and fire as your weapon.”

Bludd reached for the pistol, but Carter scooped it up and returned it to the safety of its drawer-home.  “Before we begin… I have a task for you.”  He began rummaging through another drawer.  Bludd imagined that it was Aloysius’, still pristine and untouched, and a fresh wave of guilt pounded into.  Her tail curled and uncurled.  She hoped she could escape soon.

“Take this.” The Abbot handed over a tiny vial of clear liquid.  “Mix it into a drink, any drink, but mind you don’t have any yourself.”

Bludd’s ears quirked apart.  “Poison?!”

Carter held up his paw.  “Not entirely.  My child… can I trust you wish a secret?”

Blood mewed, leaning forward in a plea for more information.  Carter nodded.

“Somebeasts in the abbey have been causing trouble.  Spreading lies… about me.  I don’t know what they want.  I fear that they are spies, working for whatever creature is killing our brothers and sisters on the outside.  Perhaps you’ve seen or heard them.  One, I know for certain: A mousemaid.”

Bludd pictured the very same creature, embraced by the cellar’s shadows.  She nodded, but said nothing. The Abbot continued.  “Her name is Selendra.  I know she at least has been speaking about me, perhaps even trying to get others to think I’m bad or untrustworthy.  How unfair it is.  If only they would talk to me in person in stead of going behind my back.”

The wildcat gasped, her tail standing straight up.  “So, yer gonna poison ‘er, then slit ‘er gizzard?”

“This,” the Abbot said, gesturing to the vial, “is not poison.  For a while, she will feel ill and be forced to rest.  It won’t last long, just enough for me to come to the bottom of what exactly is going on.”

“Oh.” Wildness danced in Bludd’s eyes.  “And then yer gonna slit ‘er gizzard?!”

The abbot forced a smile.  “There will be no slit gizzards in my abbey.  I will make quite sure of that.  Now, run along and do as I say.  Do not worry; the damage won’t be permanent.  If she is not alone, then wait until she is.  And not a word to anybeast.”  His eyes flashed.  “I have to know I can trust you.”

The wildcat stared at the vial for a moment but before she could even ask, Carter spoke for her.  “I know what you’re thinking. Why am I asking such an important task from you?  Remember.”  He winked.  “You are going to be my champion.  I believe you can do this, Bludd.  Selendra will not have any doubts about accepting a drink from you.  Now go.  Return to me when you’re done.”

The otter shooed Bludd out and shut the door behind her.  The wildcat stared at the bottle in her paw and a grin crept across her face.  Captain Bludd, Queen of all sea-born assassins would get the job done, come hellgates or high water!

Oh, I fergot! Her eyes widened, and she shot off in the direction of the kitchen. Friar made apple pie!

Bludd crouched, sliding through the grass on the abbey lawn like a sneaky serpent.  The wildcat suspected that that most serpents didn’t actually need a canteen of spiked cider to poison their prey, but that just made her even more deadly.  She was more unpredictable than the wiliest viper!

She saw Rigg and Skipper discussing something by the pond, and sneaked by Sister Amery administering a bandage to a young squirrel.

“This is why you come to me,” the Sister said, “when you get a splinter.  It would be that much worse if it got infected.”

But all the same, no Selendra.  The kitten was just beginning to suspect that the mouse knew somehow and was hiding just to make her angry, but she was too angry to think straight at the moment.

Oh, but there she was!  A fair distance, nestled by a cluster of juniper bushes as if she was one herself, Selendra whittled away at a branch with a small knife.  Little flecks of wood fell to the ground like autumn leaves in the wake of winter.  The mousemaid hummed softly to herself, and the sound was harmonious with the wind in the pines.

And then her paw slipped and she cursed, and once again she was only a mouse and the only colors were earthen.  Selendra looked up, and there was something in her face, some sort of unspeakable sadness that reached out to where the wildcat was hiding.

Bludd was familiar with sadness.

She’d nuzzled it and inhaled its rancid scent.  She’d felt the sting of broken bones.  She’d heard the screams of the dying.

She remembered each one.  Selendra must too.  And that’s what it meant to be an adult; It was either get hurt or hurt others.  Like Carter. He’s probably put real poison in here, after all.

She looked at the liquid in her paws and for the first time felt real hatred turn her blood to molten lava in her veins.  She wouldn’t stand for it.

Bludd kicked the canteen.  Selendra snapped up at the noise, but let the knife fall to her side when she saw the kitten running to her.  “What’s the matter?”  Selendra asked, and the innocent question broke Bludd’s heart.

“Run.”  Bludd’s voice was free of all inflections.  “Y-you need to get out of here or you’ll die.”  Tears sprung to her eyes.  “I don’t want you to die!

“Quiet, now.”  Selendra’s eyes flashed to the canteen, and she gathered the kitten closer.  “It’s all right, nobeast’s going to die.”  Her muzzle close to Bludd’s ear, she whispered.  “Was it the Abbot?”

Bludd nodded, pulling away from the mousemaid’s grip.  She forced herself to calm down.  “Do you have anyplace to go?  I… think I can get closer to him, but you need to be gone.”

Selendra was quite still for a moment, but she nodded.  Bludd continued.  “I can show you the way I got in when I first arrived here.  Come with me!”

Bludd tugged on her paw, but the mouse resisted.  “Before I go,” she said, “promise me that you’ll tell Berend where I’ve gone.”  Bludd nodded and Selendra allowed herself to be half-lead, half-dragged to the south wall.  A few paces away, the mousemaid stopped in her tracks.

“…He’ll probably want to see the body,” she said.

They stood, dappled in the afternoon light, and puzzled.  Bludd’s ears perked in realization, and she whispered something to Selendra.  The mouse stared for a moment, but then drew her knife and cut a notch from one of her ears.

The odd transaction complete, they continued on.  Bludd tested the wall until she found the stones near the bottom that she had pried loose a few weeks ago, pleased to see that no other beast had tampered with them.  It would be a tight squeeze, but Selendra could just manage to fit through with a little scraping and wiggling.

Before the mousemaid could truly disappear, Bludd grabbed her paw.  “Don’t become like them.”

“Mm.”  Not perfect understanding, but good enough.  “Be careful around the Abbot… and thank you.”

And it was as though Selendra never existed in the walls of Redwall Abbey.

Bludd stood on her side of the wall and suddenly found herself staring across a glassy field, a spectral mist covering everything.  She could see Selendra running, and she even saw herself standing watch, but… different.  Taller.  She clenched a mighty sword in one chain mail-clad paw.  A knight? Nearby, she caught the eye of a mouse, smiling at her with paternal care in his eyes.

She took a step toward the vision.

And then a butterfly fluttered in front of her face and she chased it back home, dancing and skipping under the clouds.
A corsair, free and bold.

“Hahar!  I did it!”

Abbot Carter looked up from his reading to see Bludd parading about his room.  He inhaled sharply.  “You… did?”

“Sure as I’ve got stripes on m’tail!”

The otter’s eyes narrowed.  “Where is she now?”

Bludd presented to the abbot the bit of Selendra’s ear.  Noting Carter’s vexed expression, she explained.  “I chopped ‘er up into fishbait.” She brandished the knife.  “I used ‘er own knife ter do it!”

Carter’s eyes bugged.  “What.”  He collected himself just as quickly.  “What about the poison, Bludd?”

“Oh.”  The cat’s ears quirked vainly toward one another.  “Din’t work.”  She picked her teeth with the knife.  “I ‘ad to impervise.  ‘id the rest of the body, I did.”

“Did you now.”  The uncertainty that flickered across Carter’s face was sweeter than fresh-baked tarts.  “Hm.  Well.”  He shrugged.  “A promise is a promise, I suppose.  Your training will begin tomorrow.”

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