April 18, 2011
The lonely halls of the mountain rang with the sound of that hammer. The forge was red-hot, a pan for even the most resistant tempered steel. Its surface had shaped many a blade, ready and able for the most gallant Lord of the Mountain.
The master of the fire mountain struck with his mighty hammer again and again, molding the resistant metal with sheer brute force. He grunted, wiping what felt like an ocean’s worth of sweat from his brow. His creation was almost finished, the ultimate masterpiece of Salamandastron.
The blades from this forge were formidable indeed, able to withstand even the most fearsome battle with scarcely a crack. The Mace, Ratdeath, even the fabled Sword of Martin had all come from the forge.
Rare, indeed, were the times in the storied history of the mountain that the Badger Lord had forged a blade for another. To have lived in those days when the mountain was prosperous and rich, when the Badger had commanded the coasts.
Lord Baxter checked himself even as he swung. Too much force and he could dismantle hours of hard work.
His whiskers were graying already, the seasons betraying his eyesight. Yet, he still maintained some of the vigor of his younger days, those moments when he had a second-long spring in his step.
Ages ago, his predecessors had made this forge hot enough to be seen in ‘lands across the sea’. Had they known what lay beyond that horizon then? Surely not even the most fantastic imagination could have dreamed of the cold reality.
Cities. Shining, sparkling cities across the ocean, thriving even as Mossflower squatted in mud huts. The wonders of those far off countries, their grandeur… How could a lowly field mouse or rat or fox or badger even fathom that? Beasts came and went from those shores, speaking strange tongues, with their own customs and ideas.
Lord Baxter was never certain exactly when in the history of the mountain it had stopped being a respected force in Mossflower country. Perhaps it had been the misadventure of Evankt, ages and ages ago. Or maybe it was when the dreadful truth regarding a certain ‘Professor Faliss’ had come to light.
The mountain had failed beasts then, its reputation smeared with the worst slander in its long history. Whispers persisted in dark corners of the land… the Badger Lords had failed, lost their ability to protect the common beast.
The hammer struck again, this time with more force than before. The steel glowed with heat and force of hours.
It was a small comfort, this hard-fought din. So often, the halls of the mountain stood silent, barren of the chipper, cheerful calls and shouts of past seasons. The Long Patrol had long since eased their requirements, first allowing rabbits into their ranks, and shortly afterward, any species.
The badger recalled those distant days when he had started out as a sergeant in the Long Patrol. It had seemed so simple. The old Badger Lord already had two sons, both vying for their father’s title. Skinny and weak, Baxter had been completely overlooked.
The hammer clanged yet again, the brutal echoes refusing to stop ringing in his ears. The metal was ready now, the shape perfection.
Now it was time to let it cool. Carefully, Lord Baxter grasped the tongs in his paws, and extracted the red-hot metal from the forge.
He almost had it when his grasp slipped and he nearly cut himself on razor-sharp, red-hot iron. Cursing, He fell back, his massive bulk nearly toppling the forge as he did so. Just a minor burn, nothing too serious. But even as Lord Baxter bent to pick the fallen metal up, his paws were still trembling.
Such a commotion he’d made in the armory, and yet there was no noise from the halls. Not that he expected any, of course. With all the excitement going on in the world, who wanted to stay to guard a mountain?
Even when he was in the Long Patrol, enlistment had been dwindling. They were promoting beasts to officer every other day, until it got to the point where there were barely any enlisted beasts left.
It was chaos. The organization had been falling apart at the seams before, but after those changes, everything collapsed.
Lord Baxter had never made a sword, or any kind of weapon before. Beasts assumed that because he was a Badger Lord, he must be extraordinarily skilled at the art. Truth to tell, this was the first time he had ever used his hammer or his forge.
In seasons past, as in the present, the mountain had been running low on funds. The previous Badger Lord had to sell the entire horde of treasure just to procure enough food and drink for the inhabitants of the mountain. It still wasn’t enough. Half of the Long Patrollers were working more than one job around the mountain to feed their families.
Now, there were only five beasts in the whole mountain. So, no one heard Lord Baxter grunt as his back gave out while bending over. No one was there to help him as he struggled to regain his footpaws in a most undignified manner. No one even noticed that it took every last ounce of will-power to shove the wretched metal into the water to quench it before laying it aside. He would temper it later… much later. Hellgates, he needed a drink.
Last week, the heavens had lit up with an unnatural glare. Lord Baxter had woken from his sleep and looked out the window to see what the disturbance was about. There on the beach, was a huge indentation in the sand, a smoldering rock sticking out. Slick and shiny, the surface of the rock was like no other he’d ever seen.
In the past, there had been only one such other even comparable. Boar the Fighter, that Badger Lord who had gone to his death still slaying beasts. The finest weapon in the world… and for a complete stranger too….
No beasts would write songs or tell tales about the sword in the rack, though. What need did Mossflower have for distant warriors when each village could conscript an army free of charge?
When he was a sergeant, Baxter hadn’t been prepared for the eventualities that would define his future. Even as a badger who’d happened to be an officer, it was still very difficult to gain influence or respect. There had only been one who asked to confide in him, one beast that had respected him. Sergeant Baxter and Sergeant Carter had been inseparable since their first meeting.
Carter was a gentlebeast’s officer, ready to fight and die not for his ideas, but for wage and board alone. In fact, in all the times that Lord Baxter had known him, Carter would never go out into the field without first collecting his dues. Needless to say, his former comrade had been respected and admired by his fellow Patrollers.
He had finally tempered the sword, the heat and hammering not quite as intense as before. Still, he ached, and sharpening the blade a further pain. Now, Lord Baxter was preparing the hilt, a simple affair for a fine blade to let the metalwork shine. It was almost ready, the first and last sword that Baxter would ever forge. It was just too much hassle to bother with again.
In the Patrol, Sergeant Baxter had considered himself something of an artist who was skilled in the use of the rapier. Not that it mattered much, since all of the other beasts brought their sabers to practice. Sometimes, the sons of the Badger Lord would come and practice their skills on the Patrol. Even sabers were no match for the gigantic broadswords that the other badgers were wont to use.
Broken blades and wounded pride were the order of the day in the ranks. The Badger Lord said nothing though. He was too old and infirmed to stand up to his sons.
So, the ranks were left to grumble amongst themselves.
It would be a relief if there were any Patrollers left in the mountain these days. Well… there was one left. Five beasts in all of Salamandastron: two cooks, a healer, the Badger Lord himself, and his Major.
The mountain had fallen on hard times. He’d only agreed upon the contract to keep the larders stocked for another season. They had neither the coin nor the time to refuse offers of help from anybeast, no matter his nature or cause.
So, when the knock had come at the mountain doors, his guard had let them in. Their leader had been a most understanding beast, one that could see quite plainly what kind of situation the Badger Lord was in. Everybeast struggled to put bread on their tables, though the mountain faced a graver challenge than most. They’d see what they could do, but first, they needed a favor.
In his patrolling days, Lord Baxter had accepted that no good deed went without a payment. It could be either deferred or delayed, but somehow the benefactor must get his due.
One particular afternoon, the old Badger Lord’s sons grew over eager. Brandishing their blades, they not only hacked every single opposing blade to pieces, they wrapped up the pieces in a cloth jacket and tossed them out into the tide. This was more than a minor annoyance.
Every time a blade broke, each Patroller would have to request a new one at the armory. This time, the cruel antics came to a head.
The Badger Lord had scheduled a practice march on the beach for the following day, and that night, as the sons beat the weaponless Patrollers, was the most agonizing and painful night of their lives. How Sergeant Baxter got any rest that night he never knew. Three Patrollers died of blood loss.
But the old Badger Lord did nothing.
Lord Baxter had just finished sharpening and polishing the blade when a knock sounded on his chamber door. The hilt now attached, the rapier at least resembled a weapon that a soldier might take into battle. Lifting it, he inspected the craftsmanship before he opened the door. Standing there was his Major, ready at attention.
“Our guest is ready to leave now, sir. He said he’s only waiting on your lordship to bid him farewell.”
The fox filled out the Long Patrol uniform better than most of the other soldiers that Baxter had known in his service. The way he stood at attention, the air he comported himself with… Here was the last hope of the Long Patrol; an ironic path indeed, considering the creed those Patrollers had lived for generations.
Generations ago… After the beach incident, Carter had come to him with an intriguing proposal. It made a great deal of sense, especially when the otter stopped to explain how this would make Salamandastron better. They had decided to keep the plot between the two of them. In the meanwhile, they kept up the façade of loyalty and obedience to the old Badger Lord.
Right now, Lord Baxter was sheathing the rapier in the scabbard he had molded for it. Wrapping the length in cloth. He nodded to the Major that he was ready to go. Together, the badger and the fox walked through the lonely halls, the eerie echo of their pawsteps muffled in the dust of seasons past.
This short-staffed, there had been too many duties required to spare time on clearing away cobwebs, or discarding useless or broken furniture.
Back in the day of the old Badger Lord, the mountain’s halls had buzzed with talk of a revival. He and his sons were to travel to the north, to try to enact a Long Patrol enlistment program. There was great fanfare as they had boarded the ship, ready for its epic journey. How could anybeast refuse the Badger Lord himself when offered a commission?
A few well-placed coins and bottles of wine had ensured a spot loading the ship for Baxter and Carter. When the time came, simply switching a few labels disguised the true nature of the packages. It would be a tragic accident on the high seas. The criers would scream, the haremums would weep, and nobeast would ever know the truth save two.
In the present, Lord Baxter waited as his Major opened the front door for him. Handing over the cloth bundle, he saluted the fox. His sergeant would take care of it.
Lord Baxter balked at meeting the client this final time. Their last meeting had been… uncomfortable to say the least. It had been the longest tea of his life that day. The client’s circumstances had been most unusual, and his motivations stranger still. He could at least appreciate some motivations. Carter’s plan, for instance….
The otter’s plan had involved only one thing, the mislabeling of one particular item. A powder was a powder to the naked eye. Was it a common kitchen ingredient, then, or a key accessory to one of the most dangerous new weapons yet devised from across the far seas?
That was where the future lay, though no beast had yet been willing to admit it. There was no profit in domestic projects, anymore. Funds needed to come from abroad. Unless the self-proclaimed ‘lords of the western coasts’ took part, they would be left behind in the rush.
Lord Baxter was now back in the armory, facing the window. The curtains were spread apart, and blowing gently in the breeze. The first things that the badger noticed were the various papers on the table where there had been none before.
He smiled as he walked over to the table and broke the seal on the topmost one. Just reading the headline brought back memories…
There had been a double parade to mark the departure of the old Badger Lord on his recruitment trip. Every Patroller stood at attention in full regalia on the beach, watching the passengers bid Salamandastron farewell.
Carter and Baxter had cheered louder than the rest when the badgers had finally boarded the ship. Baxter himself handed the old Badger Lord the ceremonial torch with which he was to inspect the ship as it sailed off into the horizon.
Carter had given Baxter a meaningful slap on the back when the ship set its sails and prepared to weigh anchor. They saw the figure of the old Badger Lord waving from the deck of the ship, the torch clasped in one wizened paw.
With a curt nod, he retreated below decks. Inspecting the stores was the great and meaningless ceremony that accompanied many an ocean voyage chartered by the mountain. It was, after all, the right and proper duty of the Lord to determine if anything of value was missing from the supposed manifest.
As Carter and Baxter had calculated so long ago, this involved the physical lifting of lids to check if the labels matched up with the items inside. To protect the mountain, that was all they had ever really wanted. To protect it from decline and decay, any measures had to be taken, no matter how extreme.
In the present, the papers on the table were all trade agreements and contracts to all the known lands. A five season’s deed to grain shipments from Noonvale, a license for five ships from Southsward, mercenary agreements with the Vulpine Imperium and Evankt. For the first time in so long, things were looking up for the Badger Lord.
He replaced the documents, and walked over to the window. There on the beach he could see his Major just standing, rapier at his side.
Approaching him was the client, not hurrying or rushing, but calmly strolling towards the fox.
As Lord Baxter looked out the window, the client had removed his hood, revealing his spiked head. As the exchange took place, the Badger Lord could not help smirking on the grand and bitter irony of it all.
The client had told him many things at that tea, especially interesting was the current state of affairs at Redwall.
“In a few days,” the client had said, “Redwall will send you a message by sparrow-post. They will require your assistance on removing a threat to their well being.”
“And what threat would that be?” Lord Baxter had inquired.
“Me,” the middle-aged hedgehog had replied with a casual rustle of his graying quills, “I’m the threat.”
To think Carter would consider this beast a threat at all… It had been easier to believe that the former Patroller had dreamed up another plot so ingenious as to avoid detection. That day on the beach as the ship had sailed away…
The beasts assembled on the beach were treated to the greatest fireworks display of their lives. The shrapnel rained down, fires lighting on fur and clothing alike, even as chunks of wood and metal blinded and gored. Carter and Baxter watched from a distance in horrified fascination as their plan came to fruition.
There had only been one badger at the mountain after that.
How different Carter and Baxter’s fortunes had turned out as a result of the incident. Lord Baxter wondered vaguely what exactly that hedgehog – Julian Case thought – he was going to do with the rapier. The hedgehog was looking up at him, and even from this distance, Lord Baxter could feel those eyes.
This was a beast that had been wronged, who would obtain satisfaction by any means necessary. He hadn’t said much about him, but in a letter from Carter, the otter had instructed Baxter to kill Julian Case on sight.
The letter came three days too late.
April 17, 2011
The hooded figure paused at the window, taking in the sights and smells of this new day. One paw lay on the shade, as if unsure whether or not to draw it.
Smoke clouded his perception of the scenery below him. The winter was almost over, and the snow was already melting off the lawns. Somewhere out there, the birds chirped over Mossflower as they had for countless ages.
“Father?” A tentative voice sounded from behind him. The figure supposed that the speaker must have thought he’d nodded off.
Sighing, the Abbot removed the pipe from his mouth, blowing out the smoke into the chilly spring air. Life’s simple pleasures; no need to be old to appreciate them.
He turned around slightly, not deigning to acknowledge the interruption. Instead, he faced them, the twelve beasts seated at the table. Each one of them was hooded, and whispering silently amongst themselves.
There was even an incense burner adorned by candles as the centerpiece; father abbot was smoking right now, to rid his nostrils of the pretentiously bad smell.
It was a ridiculous nod to the old days, back when being a Redwaller actually meant something. Not like now, this time and this place…
“Give me those papers. I need to review them one more time.” Extending his right paw, the abbot took the bundle and leafed through it.
Everything seemed to be in order, very proper. Not a bit of viable information had been left out.
It was the reply back from Salamandastron regarding Redwall’s current situation. They were refusing to send a regiment of Long Patrol hares to aid the abbey, and they had also refused to give a reason why.
The abbot bit his tongue; below the hood his mind raced for a solution to present to the council.
This was one of the worst pieces of news in a long time.
“They’re not coming.” He said at last, jamming the pipe to the side of his jaw as he did so. “I followed this up, and our spies know why, but first…”
He was interrupted again as a paw shot out in the air. “It was my understanding that Redwall has traditionally maintained a mutual relationship with the Mountain. If they know the predicament we’re in why would they refuse aid?”
The abbot stared at him, so cold and intensely, that the speaker shut up. Beasts with no brains should not be allowed to speak, in his honest opinion.
“The spies tell me that the antagonist made a visit to the Mountain some time ago, within the past season. Somehow, he convinced the Badger not to supply troops in Redwall’s general direction. The beast didn’t do this by pounding on the side of the Mountain with a massive army. Nor did he hold a sword to the Badger’s throat, from what I hear.”
There was a stunned silence in the room, as every beast wondered what the Abbot was going to reveal next. The stench from the vapor was so intoxicating; it made one think funny things in one’s head.
“No, what seems to be the case was they had a nice and civilized chat over tea in the dining room. The fate of Mossflower discussed over crumpets and saucers!”
At this point the abbot slammed a paw down violently on the table. The hood slid off his head from the impact, revealing a rather tall and muscular river otter. His whiskers were tinged gray at the very tips, fairly typical for a beast just entering middle age. However, his eyes were fierce and determined, as if no force could shatter their gaze.
“Abbot…your hood?” Again with that annoying and pretentious little insect? The day when he learned his place would be a joyous cause for celebration indeed.
“Forget it.” There he was, staring out into a sea of hoods, all wanting to hide their faces in an area where everyone knew who they were.
One of the other members started to rise, presumably to check the door lock.
“Sit. Down.” The other hooded beast froze in his tracks. Slowly, and without turning, he resumed his former position. In all of this, the Abbot hadn’t even deigned to turn his head at the offender.
From within his robes, the otter brought forth an ancient rolled-up parchment. With a grand flourish, he spread it over the table a map of all Mossflower.
All the old locations and dates were labeled there in meticulous detail. Hard quill marks scratched some areas out or inserted new markings and places in. There were even addendums added to the very edges of the map, to refer to places that had been out of the knowledge of the ancients.
His paw was pointed right in the centre of the parchment, at that point labeled ‘Redwall Abbey’. Slowly, he gestured every beast to draw in closer and watch what he did.
“At one time, Redwall’s influence stretched all the way across to the very borders of the western sea. Mossflower answered to us, the guardians of the red stone abbey. The great fire mountain, and Redwall. Commonly accepted for ages as the lone bulwarks of civilization. The ancients were wrong, however, on this point. Dead wrong.”
Without blinking, the Abbot slid the map across the table.
One of the hooded beasts grabbed for it, actually leaning forward on his chair to try to reach it. He missed however, and as they all watched, the map fell right on to the incense burner.
There was a sharp, crackling noise as the map folded into itself. The flame followed the edges, burning them to a crisp. Then black charcoal crept out from the center, and crawled over the rest. Then it was nothing, completely gone.
The abbot blew out his pipe breath over his captive assembly. His eyes flashed almost as hot as the end of the pipe he was smoking.
“The rest of the world has changed. Ships from far regions come to our shores, promising new insights into the operation of everything under this sun. In the taverns, beasts laugh and joke with each other regardless of species or creed. Why have we been the only ones to stay placid and monotone? Why are we stale and motionless?”
The paw shot in the air again. This time there was no mistaking the face behind the hood. No way anybody was hiding those floppy ears, much less a dirty rabbit.
This time there was no interruption right away, only a silent wait for the abbot to voice his permission to speak.
“Speak your piece, lad.”
The rabbit actually got up, seemingly so self-important that he felt the need to do so. Turning, the hooded bunny faced his abbot straight in the eye.
“Forgive me for speaking thus, Father Abbot, but I cannot keep still any longer. I have a suggestion; if I may… that we try and resolve this matter in the traditional manner prescribed to us by our founders. If we turn against our principles now, what will Martin think of us? We are the light in Mossflower, a bulwark against all intruders.”
The new initiates were always like this, idealistic and wanting the abbey to conform exactly to the way they had been taught in the history books. They tried his nerves, causing him to crunch down on the end of his pipe out of sheer disgust. However, if this creature noticed at all how annoying he was being, he was doing a good job ignoring it.
Wasn’t this the very beast that had been interrupting him all meeting? The otter was very tired, and he couldn’t quite remember, but it seemed so. He needed to act fast right now, because it seemed as if the other members were already nodding their heads.
If they had a quorum against him…
“Come here, Brother Doorkeeper.” He sneered derisively, combining the beast’s occupation and title into one. Come look out the window and tell me what you see.”
He pretended to step aside as the rabbit waltzed right past him to the windowsill. Slowly, he sidled right behind him, as if to show him the view.
In the distance they both could see beyond the wall tops of Redwall. There, not half a days march, was a small village, with many dwellings visible. On a clear day like this one, the smells and sounds of the place drifted over many miles.
It looked at first glance like it was peeking through the trees. The forest clearing wasn’t very large, and the density of the trees made it difficult to see any more.
If one looked to the right or left of the window, it soon became apparent that the village wasn’t as small as it had originally appeared. The otter motioned that the rabbit should lean out the window slightly.
Now it was obvious that even the space between the trees bustled with life. There were beasts traveling to and fro on varied errands, merchant carts kicking up dust as they came back from distant lands.
In all of this bustle, Redwall alone remained quiet. The bell had not yet chimed for morning duties. Indeed, the abbot noted mentally that he’d seen more life in a graveyard in the abbey at this hour.
“Now further ahead, you can see what I had wanted to show you. Just a tiny…bit further.”
Somehow no beast noticed that the abbot had his foot paw right on the rabbit’s cloak. The rabbit leaned forward, his cloak suddenly tightening as the friction stretched out to its maximum length.
The abbot actually stopped to exhale the smoke from his pipe before releasing the pressure from his foot paw.
It was a long drop. Brother Doorkeeper didn’t even have time to register what had happened before he’d hit the ground. Yet no noise stirred from Redwall Abbey…
Wordlessly, the abbot drew the shade and faced the assembled beasts. “Does any other beast have an opinion?”
No. Didn’t think so.
“Another unproductive meeting, I see. However, our late friend did have one point. There is always a place for tradition, even in a changing world. We must be open to that, no matter where it takes us.”
The beasts assembled all leaned inward, expectantly. Everybody knew what he was going to say next. There was only one piece of tradition in Redwall that should remain, must remain. If all else should fail….
“Redwall needs a champion. Not a hero, nor even a warrior. We need a champion for a new age. I will submit my draft of the prophecy at the next meeting.”
Every beast stood up, taking that as a sign to leave. They were all only too happy to go, and some of them actually kicked the chair back against the table as they got up.
Nearly all of them managed to escape the chamber before the abbot’s attention was upon them.
“You. And you. Dispose of the rabbit downstairs before anyone sees it. You, get the damned scented candle off my nice table.”
As the door slammed behind them, Abbot Carter put his paws to his head. That Society crowd really did give him a headache at times. Yet…they had elected him, so he had to play by their rules.
Nonsense. The Father Abbot of Redwall didn’t bow to the wishes of cowards and weaklings. Even if they were right about the Lockdown being all his own doing….
The otter saw the future where others chose to stay stuck in the past.
There were so many opportunities in this new world; it was a shame that the inhabitants of this Abbey were squandering so many.
Carter took out the weapon that had been cleverly hidden against his habit cord.
This was the future.
He smiled with satisfaction as he cocked the hammer back, and dry-fired the flintlock into the ceiling.
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.