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THE BEGINNING OF THE STORY
Our story of madness and beauty and possible disembowelment begins in the forest of Mossflower at the banks of the River Moss where a small holt of otters lives peacefully and in near bliss in the wonderful land of Redwall.
A tall, copper-furred otter, Arina O'Rourke, sat on the riverbank cuddling a small ottercub in her lap. She spoke to the cub in a soft Highland accent. "Ah remember the day I found ye, Willow. Your birth mum was bein' chased by a band o' weasels. . . she ran past mah holt, pounded on the door until ah opened et and pushed a bundle into mah arms. Ah ken she said 'Take care o' mah bairn' afore she ran." Arina's voice broke and tears spilled down her cheeks. "Ah dinnae ken ef she survived. . . ah promised her ah'd love an' raise ye like ye were mah ain." She smiled and kissed the cub's head. "Ah've never broken that promise, ah never will."
On the other side of the riverbank the reflection of the sun began to make it's way across, gleaming brightly on the surface and reflecting into the trees near the bank. As Arina sat with her adopted cub reflecting on the past, a steely gray male otter padded to the river from behind. Crouching down on his haunches, he began washing his face after sleeping in late. Otters of course weren't bound by any strict punctuality unless they were serving as guards or were prepared for war. At this point violence of any sort was very rare in the region, and so some warriors had the alternating privilege of catching up on their rest without being thrown out of their sacks.
Several young otters played in the water, splashing and laughing. On the banks, bubbling pots of hotroot soup boiled over the cookfires, tended by ottermums. A couple young ottermaids were cleaning the wash in the swift-moving waters. Dylano, a young male otter and some friends fished together.
- There was a sound of voices and a band of adult otters walked into the holt's camp. Their leader, a tall, muscular beast nodded his greeting to the holt chieftain.
"Me an' my patrol've scouted up an' down the river. No sign of any trouble to be had today. There is a storm lookin' to be comin up tomorrer, though."
The Skipper, a rangy, tan-furred otter named Dorvan Streambattle, clasped the speaker's paw. "Glad to hear yore report, Lyram. I thought I smelled rain this morning. Do y' suppose the storm'll be bad enough that we have t' hole up inside the holt for a few days?"
Lyram exchanged a wary look with one of the female scouts. "Aye. This'un will be the storm o' the season. 'N Ah fear h'it'll bring more than bad weather. Meylis, tell 'im what ye saw."
The scout stepped forward. "H'on our scoutin' trip, Ah felt a weird vibe so Ah h'explored a bit further. H'on the way Ah found a nice h'elm tree that Ah climbed. H'it 'ad really nice nuts." A sharp look from Lyram curbed her verbosity. "H'it also gave me h'a good view o' the surroundin' area." Shaking her head, she sighed. "Get ready, Chief. H'it's a biggie."
Dorvan took a deep breath and held it. He clenched a paw around the sling at his waist automatically, pulling it free and twisting it apprehensively in his paws. The Skipper didn't speak, but nodded for Meylis to continue as he turned his gaze on Lyram.
Behind him, Willow toddled into the camp, followed closely by her adoptive mother. Arina took one glance at her Skipper's face and scooped Willow into her paws to hug her close, suddenly apprehensive. She didn't dare to breathe.
Willow fussed at being picked up so suddenly when she was wanting to play with a pretty flower near the water's edge.
- "Wahaah!! I wanna play wit da pwetty flowah!! Wahaah! Arinee lemme go!!!"
Arina set the little otter down.
- "Only if ye don't go tae far Willow. Don't want ye tae get hurted!"
- "I'll be vewy vewy caweful, Arinee!" said the cute little otter as she toddled off toward the pretty flower.
She grabbed one with a chubby fist and held it up for her adoptive mother to see.
- "Looka pwetty flowah, Arinee! I gotted it just fow ya!"
Skipper Dorvan took a deep breath. "More than just bad weather?" He looked toward Willow, then to Meylis, gritting his teeth. "If you saw vermin, Meylis, I want a full report. I'm sounding the alarm!"
The big otter pulled out a flat rudderdrum and began beating it rhythmically, four loud beats, then a pause, then four beats again. The sound echoed, carrying around the camp.
Suddenly five big rats appeared on the other side of the stream. Skipper shouted at two burly otters named Aloj and Blackie. "Get those rats, Mateys!" Aloj, Blackie and another two otters grabbed their slings and darted after the rats. At the same time a logboat laden with chattering shrews rushed past. Aloj fired a stone at one of the rats and hit him.
The shrews jumped onto the land and raced after the remaining rats. Blackie and Aloj managed to hit a further two rats before the shrews caught up with them and dragged them back to the logboat.
Aloj walked towards the shrew who seemed to be in charge. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
Jidder, the shrew in charge turned to face Aloj. "We came t' help! There's an army o' rats comin' down the river! They'll find yore 'olt soon enough if ye don't hide yoreselves!"
Dorvan nodded. "I'll take a couple o' me lads an' see wot we kin do about these vermin. How many of 'em would ye say there was, mate?"
Jidder scratched his headfur. "I dunno, maybe 'bout a score. If ye wants ter make a stand, now's the time an' here's the place, pal!"
The otter's brawny paw clasped that of the wiry shrew, just as the rats appeared around a bend in the river. "We stand together! Gousiiimmm! Streambattleee!!"
As the shrews and otters war cries rent the summer skies, elsewhere in Mossflower, trouble was apaw. The three young dibbuns Mopfrey, Meefus and Deebil, a doormouse, a shrew and a mole, respectively, had broken their time-out and snuck outside into the Abbey grounds. Right now, they were surveying three fat pies cooling on the kitchen windowsill with the eyes of true critics of the art. Meefus, standing on Deebil's head, stuck a thumb in a cherry pie, plucking out a plump cherry. He popped it into his mouth with a smack.
- "I say dees cherry one is good, lots good! What is yore votes, Mopfrey, Deebil?"
Mopfrey scrambled up onto Deebil's head, sending Meefus tumbling to the ground. He shoved a paw into the pie, scooping out a pawful of the filling and stuffing it into his mouth.
- "H'I h'agrees!"
Deebil grumbled. "Hurr wot abowt oi? You'm greedy likkle villyuns will eat alla the poi, ho urr! Give oi some!" "Oh shut y' pie 'ole, Deebil, you bees fatter'n likkle ol' me! You can wait!" Meefus, however, wasn't speaking. He was staring behind them, mouth moving, but no words came out.
The battered and bloodied form of a tall, rangy black haremaid stood in the Abbey's open gates. Riona Nightfur's legs shook as she looked around. . . . this was the place her father, Long Patrol Major Coyle Nightfur, had told her about. She gasped and dropped the twin claymores she held as agony lanced through her body. Her eyes focused on the babes.
"Liddle mates. . . . help mah. . . please. . . ah cannae. . . " the Highlander managed to say before pain and exhaustion took their toll. As Riona took a staggering step forward, the last thing that ran through her mind as unconsciousness enveloped her and her eyes rolled back was 'Da. . . ah've made et tae Redwall. . . . '
WEDGEBACK OR WEDGE
The young stoat tanned on a rock sharpening spear and knife. "Glorious morning, shame that blood will flow on it" he chuckled.
"Why would you call it a shame?" a deep baritone voice came from behind him. The owner of the voice, a muscular ferret, leaned on a broadsword, dark eyes glinting maliciously. "I hope it'll be that hare's. That stupid slave thinks she can escape Tickler. . . she'll find out what it can do when I get my paws on her. . ." He unwound a long, barbed black whip from his left shoulder and cracked it once, menacingly. "The name's Krazgore."
The young stoat flinched and laid hand to dagger. "Mine's wedgeback, or wedge for short", "i plan to spill the blood of the father abbot of redwall"
Krazgore lifted a single eyebrow. "Oh, indeed. And just what, exactly, do you intend to accomplish by this? Are they going to make you their leader? Are you personally wronged by the existence of fat old mice in funny robes? Or are ye after the treasure?"
"I want two things: their leader dead, and that sword of theirs." Wedgeback's eyes glinted as he turned his blade over in his paws.
The big ferret scoffed and heaved with laughter at the prospect.
"What're you, stupid? Don't you know how many virmin armies have fallen to them? They may not look like much, but they have warriors on their side, like the Skipper of Otters, the Gousim, and the forces of Salamandastron." His voice dropped low and hissed at the the mention of the last force. Wedgeback could see the fires of hatred blazing in his dark eyes. Wedgeback chuckled a bit, perhaps not a good desicion, but Krazgore wasn't focused on him, and he knew that.
"Well, what we gotta do is wipe out their aids. I can see in your eyes that you've got something against Salamandastron. Tell you what, matey. Are you looking for a tough-looking, black-furred hairmaiden, by any chance?"
Krazgore growled and nodded. "She's the one. My strongest slave. I thought I had her chained up last night but she slipped her chains. It's personal."
WEDGEBACK: (thanks Wild for doing this while i was inactive) *Wedge smirks* "when my blade goes through the abbot's heart, redwall will fall to me!"
Then, Wedgeback looked up at the fuming Krazgore.
"I'll tell you what," Wedgeback said to him. "Why don't we team up? You know, work together? I saw that hairmaiden sprinting by here last night. Fast 'un, she was. Guess where she was headed?" Wedgeback left no time for Krazgore to talk as he answered himself. "Redwall Abby! We're both headed in the same direction, why don't we join forces?" The young stoat said, a wild light in his eyes. Wild for what he was pursuing.
A sadistic grin passed over the big ferret's face; he reached and clasped Wedgeback's paw in his own. "You have a good proposal, friend. Those stupid mice and that rabbit won't be able to stand against us."
At the otter holt, chaos was wrecking havoc. Ottermums, along with ottermaids screamed at the sight of the vermin coming around the bend of the river. They herded the young'uns and the otterbabes into the tents and shelters they made. Arina O'Rourke sprang up from her spot where she was coddling her adopted baby, and growled feircely at the vermin charging around the bend. She sprinted over to Dorvan, a feirce light gleaming in her bright brown eyes.
"Dorvan, let me fight this time!! I can prove that I am good enough to be a holt warrior!"
Suddenly, a rat lands right on top of Dorvan, having jumped from a tree. The rat punches Dorvan in the snout repeatedly, and then bites his shoulder. Dorvan yells in pain as he tries to get the rat of him, but the rat remains on him stubbornly as it prepares for the killing blow, right to the neck.
Arina at first, stumbled back in surprise, but when she saw that Dorvan was in danger, almost by instinct, she tucks Willow into her left arm and holds her firmly against her body, then swinging a poweful kick, she lands the blow square on the rat's chest. It falls to the ground, the wind knocked clear out of him as he weezes voilently, trying to get air back in his lungs. Arina throws her paw across Dorvan's back, supporting him as she takes him to the edge of the holt's boundaries, dodging the chaos and flying rocks as best as she can. Arina lowers him gently to a sitting position in the bushes.
"Dorvan, do I have your permission to fight?" She asks anxiously, temporarily forgetting about Willow (perhaps not a wise thing) who is still tucked in her arm.
"Yes, Arina. . . give Willow to me. . . I'll protect her. . ." Dorvan reaches for the little cub, fear in his eyes. "Please stay alive . . for Willow, my friend. . . .for us. Thank you, Arina, you saved my life."
PRINCESS OF MOUSETHEIVES
Arina quickly but gently pushed Willow across into Dorvan's waiting paws. The little cub was speechless with terror.
"Take her, Dorvan, and get out o' here. Keep 'er safe. You're injured, ye can't stay 'ere. Ah know that someday, I'll see ye again."
A moment of peace in the midst of battle. Rocks, spears and arrows whistled overhead, but the trio were oblivious, like a shield had been placed between Arina, Dorvan, Willow and the chaos of battle.
Arina was the first to snap back to the present. "Go!" she whispered to the other otter. She turned, striding back into the fray.
Dorvan watched Arina walk away, almost calling her back. He glanced between the wilds of Mossflower and the battleground, torn in two. He couldn't leave his holt. He wouldn't. He was responsible for them, and if they died, it would be his fault. Then he looked down at Willow, a new resolve forming in his mind. If he charged into battle with his various wounds, he would probably just get killed. But he could save Willow.
The otter turned his back on the carnage of battle and limped away into Mossflower.