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For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 25
     Foxglove lay in the bed, staring at the wall with empty eyes. All day she had been trying to come up with some kind of escape plan, but one way or another her thoughts would circle back to Kars. She couldn’t close her eyes without seeing him falling from the walltop again and again, his broken body looming before her mind gaze. Finally, the vixen succumbed to a doze, and events of seasons long past marched before her, starting with her young days…
     ***
     Foxglove was born and grown up in a tiny hamlet on Northern Shores, so small it didn’t even have a proper name. The only point of note there that had kept the place alive was a corsair port. There wasn’t anything of great interest for corsairs as well, but they would dock to replenish their supply of food and fresh water or get their ships repaired. Many young vermin from the hamlet would enlist as crewbeasts for these ships in their se
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 24
     The midday sun had found Wavehound and runaway slaves in rather poor conditions. The managed to take refuge in a narrow rocky crevice, but it was far too cramped to house so many creatures. Rainwater constantly ran down the stone walls, but this also proved to be an inconvenience instead of benefit, for salt and slime on the walls made it undrinkable.
     After counting all the refugees, Wavehound realized there was one missing: Betta. The otter felt sick for losing one of his charges so soon, but he simply couldn’t blame it on the squirrels. Rain, cold and strain of escape weren’t kind to them, especially to those old and weak. Seven beasts had already got a bad cold, and Mlika seemed to have it worse than others. Scanty as the runaways were, they could do little but place the ill at the back of the crevice, away from the wind. Here they huddled, shivering from the chill, even though their fur was hot to touch. Wavehound c
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 23
    Abbess Bikkle chose Triss’s room as a meetings place for the War Council, so the Swordmaid could take part in it. Skipper Rumbol dumped a pile of maps and other papers on a small table, and Grawn sat himself here, taking a chance to study maps of Mossflower. Mother Abbess, Captain Longstep, Hart Oakspike and Broom settled round. Foremole Ruggum had also come, supported by Brother Turfee; the mole’s paws were covered with bandages. Simon perched a little aside, as if he felt uneasy being here. Freedom could understand him, because she felt the same.
     Leaders of the Abbey invited her and Maple because they thought that runaways could give them useful information about Darm’s army. It was true, but Maple was the one talking. It amazed Dom how much he had learned just by ‘watching and listening carefully’, as he called it.
    “I didn’t have time to count all the soldiers,” t
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 22
    “Send help for the others, right now!” roared Betta, nearing Skief. “You should, you must do it!” The rats staggered away, concern and bewilderment on their faces. It took Betta a few seconds to realize they were startled by her sudden outburst. Faltering and stammering from nervousness, the badgerwife told them the story of the slaves’ escape. “Vermin are after them! You’ve got to help them!” she urged.
     Skief stepped back to have a look at a water-clock – two connected jars standing on a slab of stone, a thin stream of water pouring from the upper jar into the lower one through a tiny holy. Stonebreaker scratched his claw on clay to mark the level. “It’s almost noon at Upper Terramort. Rolt cannot go above during daylight; the risk is too high.”
    Betta growled deep in her throat. In a moment, she grabbed Skief by shoulders and shook him
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 21
    “Hurr, get down! ‘Here ‘re beasts comin’ dis ‘ay!”
    At Rupet’s command Freedom and her companions fell flat, dragging Dibbuns with them.
    “Who are that beasts?” hissed Dom with irritation. After spending the rest of not-so-quiet night making her way through thickets and bushes, she was too tired to be afraid.
    The short mole stamped ground with his footpaw. “Dunno. But Oi feel them tramplin’, feel them wit’ moi diggin’ clauws!”
    Dom couldn’t feel the earth like moles, but she could hear muffled rustling of branches – an evidence of some beasts trying to move secretly. Brushwood and false dawn were hiding them from strangers’ eyes, but it also concealed the beasts from them.
    Bikkle crawled forward to peep from their hide-out, then let out a laugh of
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Literature
My LGBT+ Characters
I really wanted to do something to honor the celebration of Pride Month in June, but I wasn’t sure what exactly until my friend Shadow-Hyder made a list of her LGBT+ characters for this occasion – and then I knew that I had to do the same.
‘Azarian Stories’ Characters:
Urcut: Demisexual heteroromantic
Urcut is only attracted to those she has an established emotional bond with, so she falls in love slowly but surely. She had strong romantic feelings only once, toward a fellow Mountain Warden who unfortunately died before they could take their relationship further. Since then, the strongest bond she has is with Wercur, though her feelings toward him are platonic.
Wercur: Bi-curious
Wercur is actually the type of person who would flirt with everyone, and he certainly appreciates beauty of any type, but he wouldn’t go as far as enter a relationship with an
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 20
     The night over Mossflower Woods was calm and warm, but the night over Terramort Isle brought a heavy shower which hung in the air, forming a thick wall of water. The escaped slaves could barely see their way, so they clutched to each other firmly. Wavehound took the lead – the otter would stop from time to time and put a paw to his head trying to prevent the rain from blinding him, checking direction.
     Seabird made it her responsibility to see that nobeast would get lost. “Look after your families and friends! Especially old and little ones! Or hold each other’s paws, that’ll be better!”
     Betta and the squirrels helping her were ones in the rearguard: the badgerwife hadn’t been free from her chains for longer than anybeast could remember, and the race for life had already drained her strength. Betta did her best to stay on foot, but her body didn’t want to obey her. S
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 19
Under the bright night stars, a large group of hedgehogs stood at river bank, watching silently at big raft with a hut in its center. Inside that hut laid bodies of more than thirty Waterhogs, ready for their last journey. Big hedgehog called Hart Oakspike untied the rope which bound the raft to the bank and pushed it with long punting pole.
“May wind and waves carry thee to the sunny slopes where may thee find peace.” Hart spoke traditional words of farewell, and tears ran down his cheeks. The body of his father was lying at the raft among other tribebeasts. The old hog wanted to relinquish Chieftainship of the Waterhogs to Hart and spend his last days playing with little hoglets. Who could have known that Hart would have to claim his father’s title like this? Who could have known that a fishing trip half of Tribe took the day before would cost them so many lives?
Hart stood straight. He had to be strong for his tribe. And he had to hurry. Hart had always been down-t
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Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 18
     The sun had disappeared behind the horizon when Zlissa slithered out of spacious cave that served as her lair. Her scaled face was as emotionless as ever, but a tiny sparkle of light in her eyes could pass for a smile.
     It was so easy! Take on a pitiful look, get a sad expression, add some stupid words about friends and other staff, and that silly woodlanders are ready to believe you. However, that squirrelmaid was constantly trying to lead everybeast back to her home, and the old molewife didn’t seem to trust her, but a couple of Zlissa’s persuading stares had solved the problem. Right now, the whole group was sleeping inside the cave. What a fools.
     Zlissa Evileyes didn’t need great strength or great size to rule the swamp as she did – her sharp mind and hypnotic gaze was enough. She always could persuade anybeast to do whatever she wanted – always, since the day
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Edward VanRoDine Humanized by AstarGoldenwing Edward VanRoDine Humanized :iconastargoldenwing:AstarGoldenwing 1 2
Literature
8 Facts about Hopse and Plana
Hopse and Plana are side characters from my story 'For Freedom' who are almost inseparable from each other, so they got to share this entry.
1. Both Hopse and Plana were named after the characters of ‘Fifteen Hares’ by Felix Salten, the author of ‘Bambi’, which are, by the way, rather engaging and insightful books. There are in-story reasons behind their names as well: Hopse’s name was originally given to him as a nickname by his parents due to his hyperactive nature and a habit of hopping around when he was a leveret, and Plana was named after her grandfather, Major Placidus Nalim Swiffscut.
2. As with many of my secondary characters, Hopse and Plana’s appearances were considerably foggy in my mind’s eye until recently, all I knew was that they both were light-furred. Now that their designs solidified, I can tell that Hopse has light grey
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Leah Bezzett Humanized by AstarGoldenwing Leah Bezzett Humanized :iconastargoldenwing:AstarGoldenwing 3 2
Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 17
     Darm Deathtrap wasn’t in his brightest mood when he and his troops returned to the camp. Healers had treated his wounded paw, but the weasel lord couldn’t help brooding about the battle of Redwall Abbey. He had almost won – almost! – and then the cursed stripedog and his rabbits ruined everything. Now it would take much more time and efforts to get Redwall. But he will get it, surely. May be it was even better to finish both Redwallers and the hares of Long Patrol at once…
     Clyde was waiting for them, and Darm didn’t even bother to answer his salute. “Make your report, Captain. Has Greywhisker brought Shamra and the traitors back?”
     “No, Lord.” The stoat held his eyes down, as if it was his fault. “He and a score of his crew disappeared, and all the other searchers couldn’t find a trace either of him or of your dau- I mean, Shamr
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Steffan Torkel Humanized by AstarGoldenwing Steffan Torkel Humanized :iconastargoldenwing:AstarGoldenwing 2 5 Elga Torkel Humanized by AstarGoldenwing Elga Torkel Humanized :iconastargoldenwing:AstarGoldenwing 1 5
Literature
For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 16
     The storm that had blown in Mossflower was just an echo of the one that raged over Terramort Isle. In that northwest island, storms and tempests were frequent guests. This was one of the strongest corsairs had seen in their lives – they could only thank their luck that they weren’t in the open sea at that night. The storm had brought enough problems for Fort Bladegirt: vegetable and grain fields were damaged, fishing boats were broken, and half of the roof was blown off soldiers’ Barracks.
     In the morning, Drooptail lined up all the vermin and declared that all the vermin were ought to work together with slaves. As one could expect, discontented grumbles and sighs could be heard immediately. “You are going to work, like it or not!” snapped the stoat Commander. “The all work must be done in a day!”
     New grumbles followed, and soldiers’ Captain Viro Strongclaw had
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     Foxglove lay in the bed, staring at the wall with empty eyes. All day she had been trying to come up with some kind of escape plan, but one way or another her thoughts would circle back to Kars. She couldn’t close her eyes without seeing him falling from the walltop again and again, his broken body looming before her mind gaze. Finally, the vixen succumbed to a doze, and events of seasons long past marched before her, starting with her young days…

     ***

     Foxglove was born and grown up in a tiny hamlet on Northern Shores, so small it didn’t even have a proper name. The only point of note there that had kept the place alive was a corsair port. There wasn’t anything of great interest for corsairs as well, but they would dock to replenish their supply of food and fresh water or get their ships repaired. Many young vermin from the hamlet would enlist as crewbeasts for these ships in their search for a better life. Foxglove didn’t blame them – it seemed anywhere life was better than in the hamlet. Those who had stayed still worked for the corsairs one way or another: repair workers fixed the ships’ breakages and fishers pickled and smoked their catches for sale, and nobeast’s earnings could be compared with the ones of Skinflint, the local tavern keeper.

    Foxglove had never known her father. Her mother said he had died even before she was born, but the young vixen suspected he just didn’t want to burden himself with a wife and a cub. Her mother was a healer, and she had clients among corsairs as well as among local beasts. When Foxglove was a little cub, they were considerably well-off. Till one day a competition appeared. Several new healers – no, magickers and seers, that was how they called themselves, - moved in the hamlet. They couldn’t mix a simple potion without chanting and replaced poultices with charms and amulets. Foxglove’s mother, who never pretended being something she wasn’t, only laughed at their mumbo-jumbo and magic nonsense. However, it soon turned out that ‘magic nonsense’ was what superstitious vermin preferred, and she lost most of her customers to them. Then came a time for Foxglove and her mother to pull in their belts.

    Foxglove’s mother tried teaching her the healing trade as well, but it turned out that Foxglove had no healer’s talent whatever. After several attempts, the old vixen had to acknowledge her defeat when Foxglove accidentally put some hotroot into what had been supposed to be a cooling salve. “Well, I did heal his stiff joints,” Foxglove tried to excuse herself later. “They didn’t seem to bother him at all when he chased me all the way round the village!”

     Anyway, her healer career ended there, and she needed to find some other way to earn her living. Foxglove wouldn’t leave with some corsair ship because her mother had lost all her clients by that time and couldn’t even feed herself. Foxglove couldn’t also hope to compete with fishers or repair workers who practiced their trade since very young age. That left only one path open for her: Foxglove had become a servant in Skinflint’s tavern. The job turned out harder than most beasts imagine. Foxglove’s work was not only to attend to the customers with food and drink, but also to wash the dishes, scrub the floor and the tables, clean up all the mess after the customers, - to put it short, all the work that needed to be done in a tavern. In exchange, Skinflint provided Foxglove with a roof over her head and enough vittles to feed herself and her mother.

     Foxglove’s life gained a rhythm of tidal waves, going up and down, up and down. When a corsair ship arrived into the port, there would be a swarm of customers and enough work to run her paws off – but then, a servant’s share would always increase at such days. If the corsairs were extremely generous, - or extremely drunk, - a servant could even hope to receive some tips for the good service. Sure, Skinflint saw that it was him who got all the revenues and nobeast else, but with some luck it was possible to hide these tips from him. Foxglove had no regrets about stealing from her master. After all, Skinflint would use any chance to cheat her out of her earnings. Foxglove thought it only fair that she would take her share herself if Skinflint underpaid her, and she needed this share to put away for a rainy day. This rainy day would inevitably come after a ship’s departure, when there were no more customers and no more work. This state of affairs usually lasted till another ship’s arrival, and the cycle would start anew.

     Foxglove’s life had been passing by like that for some seasons. However, it had all changed when she met Kars. That day a corsair ship had just arrived to the hamlet, and the tavern was full with customers. Foxglove was busy carrying a tray with mugs of grog when she heard a noise from the common room. And that noise was louder and more belligerent than usual drunk brawling. It was easy to pin up a source of the disturbance. Two beasts stood face to face; they both swayed a bit, indicating they were no newcomers to the tavern. The crowd had backed away, giving them some space, an anticipation of a good fight on their faces.

     A burly weasel bared his teeth, “Say it again and I’ll break your every bone!”

     His opponent, a big wide-shouldered fox, only laughed. He was almost handsome, with thick brown fur and long straight muzzle. However, the good first impression was spoiled by the fox’s weird-looking eyes. His left eye was yellow and it had a slight squint, so it seemed that he was looking sideways as if keeping an eye on other corsairs round him. His right eye was green and normal, but Foxglove had a peculiar feeling that this eye looked through the weasel rather than straight at him.

    “I say it again and again and again: you’re a coward!” spat out the fox. “Where were you when we boarded that riverdog ship? And before you say you was there, why you was the only one who got out of the battle without a scratch on your pelt?”

    “Bah! Scars are signs of a lousy swordbeast, not bravery!”

    “So, you think yourself to be a master swordbeast? Can you prove it, coward? Or do I add ‘liar’ to your title?”

    “Oh, I can!” A cutlass appeared in the weasel’s paw. “And I gonna give you a fencing les-“

     The fox didn’t wait for him to finish the sentence. He grabbed a bottle of grog from the nearby table and broke it over the weasel’s head. The weasel dropped on the spot, knocked out cold. The crowd roared in triumph.

     Foxglove put her tray on one of the tables and clapped her paws. “Sirs!” she had to raise her voice to be heard. “Sirs!! Fights are not allowed in this tavern. Please resolve all your problems outside. But once there – no fighting, no dueling, no poisoning and, the most important, no damaging the tavern property or staining it with blood.”

    The big fox turned at her, and Foxglove again got a feeling that his green eye was looking somewhere behind her. “He started all this!” he complained, pointing at the fallen weasel with a splintered bottleneck in his paw.

    “The rules must be obeyed, with no exceptions. Please, leave the tavern and take your friend with you. You can come back tomorrow.”

    “Hellgate’s teeth!” The fox slammed his paw on the table heavily. “I’m not leaving nowhere, that’s it!” And he swung the bottleneck in Foxglove’s direction.

    Foxglove didn’t think he had actually wanted to hit her, but rather to shoo her away. Still, she reacted quickly. The vixen ducked under his paw and grabbed his wrist, digging her claws into a sensitive tendon. The fox’s paw reflexively unclenched, dropping his improvised weapon. Foxglove wrenched her opponent’s wrist outwards, so the big fox had to fall on his knees to avoid having his paw damaged. She kept wrenching till she had the troublemaker sprawled on the floor. “Please leave the tavern, sir,” she repeated.

    “Aaah… right, right, I leave, stop breaking ma paw, ye pest!”

     Foxglove released him, and the big fox made for the door. “Payment for your drinks and the bottle you’d broken!” the vixen called. Without stopping, the fox threw her a bracelet – silver, three stones embedded in it were definitely rubies. That was more than the fox actually owed them, but Foxglove wasn’t about to enlighten him.

     Hiding the bracelet in her sleeve, Foxglove frowned. Other corsairs had already carried the senseless weasel out of the room, but that still left her with a mess to clean up. But there were business she had to finish first. Foxglove took the tray she had put down earlier and headed to one of the tables. “Your grog, sir.”

     **

     The next day Foxglove had met the fox with mismatched eyes again. He walked into the tavern, glancing round with a confident look of a beast searching for something.

     Foxglove had a sickening feeling in her stomach. He had probably come to get a payback for getting thrown out of the tavern. She wanted to sneak into the kitchen and swap her serving duty for dishwashing when the fox noticed her. “Hey, you there, vixen, come here, need t’ talk.”

     Foxglove drew nearer, making sure to leave a table between her and the visitor. “Yes, sir? Do you want to order something – beer, grog, wine?” she asked with a polite smile.

    “No, no. Just… look, how…” the big fox stopped himself and stared at the floor as hard as if he wanted to burn a hole in it with his green eye. He looked almost as it he was embarrassed, except that Foxglove knew such beasts simply don’t get embarrassed.

     She turned away to go. “Sir, I have a work to do.”

    “How did you do that?” he blurted out. “Yesterday evening – that move you used to bring me down. I mean, I’m bigger and stronger – and yet you had me crying uncle on the floor like a wee mousebabe!”

     Foxglove’s smile grew into a grin. “Ha, that’s be my little secret.”

    “Teach me that move.”

     For a moment, Foxglove thought she had heard it amiss. “Was that a joke? Haha.”

    “No, I’m serious. I will pay you for the training.”

     Foxglove rolled her eyes. “Oh, and then you’ll beat me using my own moves and take your payment back. No, thanks, go look for another fool.”

    “All right, vixen. Look there.” The fox with mismatched eyes held up a dagger in a way as if he wanted to throw it. Foxglove immediately bent her head down, sidestepping and bringing an empty tray up like shield. Puzzled, the fox stared at her. “Emm, what are you doing? I’m not going to attack you.”

    “Then put that dagger down,” Foxglove demanded. “Yesterday’s rules still apply.”

    “Wait, look there. See that rat?” the visitor pointed the dagger at one of their regular clients sipping beer in the far end of the tavern.

     Foxglove nodded, and in that very moment the fox threw his dagger. It whizzed like an angry wasp and hit the rat’s clay mug just as he was about to take a sip. The steel blade broke the mug and continued its way, embedding itself in the wall. The rat shot up to his footpaws, his paws, clothes and shaggy beard splashed with beer. “Who did this?!” he roared. “Who?!”

     The big fox rose to his footpaws as well and waved his paw. “I did, messmate. That was a good throw, wasn’t it?”

    “You ruined my beer, mangy flea-pelt! Rotten cod an’ bald seagull yer messmates, not me!”

    “Ho, that was just a joke, messmate. Don’t you have a sense of humor? Don’t fret about your drink, messmate. Hey, tavern keeper! Two – no, three bottles of the best beer for my messmate there!”

    “And who’s going to pay for the broken mug?” Skinflint called, promptly coming to the common room.

     The fox carelessly thrown him a golden tailring. “That should account for everything.”

     Skinflint was a very fat weasel, but he had always displayed great agility when business concerned riches. Right now he nimbly caught the ring and snapped at Foxglove, “Why are you standing there rooted to the ground? Get going, there’s work to be done!”

    “Ho, wait there, tavern keeper. This beast worked hard yesterday and this day, don’t you think she deserves a day off?” with these words, the fox put another gold ring into Skinflint’s paws.

     Once he had gold in his paws, the weasel shrugged nonchalantly. “Take a day off, maiden, but you’ve got to be there and working in the morning.”

    Foxglove turned to the insolent fox, her paws on her hips. “And what’s that about?”

    “Oh, I was about to ask whether you can throw knives like that.”

    “Could’ve just do it without being such a show-off.”

     Much to her dissatisfaction, the customer only smiled. “I’ll take that as ‘no’. So there’s a deal: you teach me that paw-twisting move, and I teach you the knife-throwing. If I ever try to use your skills against you, you will always be able to stab me with a knife. That sounds like a fair trade for me, er?”

     Indeed, that sounded fair enough; besides, a day of hanging out away from the tavern would certainly be better than another day of exhausting work. “It’s a deal, then,” Foxglove said.

     The fox with mismatched eyes extended a paw to her and, much to Foxglove’s surprise, began to recite an old by-word her mother taught her:

    “Shake paws, count your claws.

     You steal mine, I'll borrow yours.”

     Foxglove grasped his paw and shook it, finishing the saying:

    “Watch my whiskers, check both ears.

     Robber foxes have no fears.”

     They had already left the tavern when the fox said, “By the way, my name’s Kars. And yours?”

    “Foxglove.”

     His yellow eye got a mischievous sparkle in it. “A fox named Foxglove? That’s…”

    “Just you try making fun of my name, and I’m going back to the kitchen,” Foxglove warned.

    “Actually, I was about to say ‘fitting’.” Kars noticed the vixen’s confused look and explained. “You see, I’ve known a rat called Wolfclaw and a ferret named Badgerstripe, though even a blind mole would’ve never mistaken them for a wolf or a badger. But your name is more… clear, so to say.”

     Foxglove hadn’t thought about her name that way before. That was actually kind of pleasant. “Let’s hurry up and get to the training,” she said finally.

     **

     They found a sandy clearing between the beach and the forest for their training. Kars had probably realized that Foxglove still didn’t completely trust him, because he offered starting their practice with knife-throwing. Two foxes spent all morning exercising. Foxglove learned to throw pretty quickly, adopting both the strong stroke of the paw that sent the knife in the air and quick flick of the wrist that made the knife land blade first. Aiming was what had given her the main trouble – three out of four times her knife would miss the oak trunk they chose as a practice target. Seeing her frustration, Kars suggested proceeding with bare-pawed combat. It turned out that his size and slower speed somewhat cut down his ability to reduplicate Foxglove’s move. The vixen made him repeat it again and again till his movements became swift and accurate.

     Finally, two foxes sat down under their practice target oak for a break.

    “How it happened that you’re so good in fighting if you’re just a tavern servant?” asked Kars.

     Foxglove grimaced at the thought. “Beasts tend to get wild when grog and beer involved, so it’s actually part of the job. You of all beasts should’ve known that, after a brawl you put yesterday.”

    “Oh my… I’ve just realized how terrible I’ve been then…” The big fox covered his head with both paws. “You know, I was drunk and that weasel was putting on airs… No, that’s making up excuses. It’s my fault, and I’m terribly sorry.”

    “It wasn’t that bad. One broken bottle and a knocked-out client – I wished it would always end with such light casualties,” Foxglove mused.

    “Why are you dealing with drunken customers anyway? That tavern is a profitable place, can’t its owner hire a bouncer?”

    That made Foxglove snort with something that reminded laughter. “The tavern belongs to somebeast whose name is Skinflint. Why should he spend his loot if he can just make us work more?”

     Kars shrugged and changed the subject. “You’re really good with knives, you know.”

    “So good that I can’t hit a tree trunk?”

    “Aiming skills will come later. But you’ve got good throw, and took less than a day for it. I myself had to practice for three days till my knives stopped landing handle first. You’re a quick learner, and you can make a fine fighter. Have you ever thought about joining a corsair crew?”

     Of course she did. That topic was a sore spot for her. “No. I’m not leaving the village – not now, not never.”

    “Why not?”

    Because that would mean abandoning my mother to starve. However, she wasn’t going to tell her new acquaintance that much. “That’s none of your business.”

    “But…”

    “Leave it!” Foxglove jumped to her paws and briskly went away. “Got to go. Have business to do.”

     Kars rose to his paws as well. “Foxglove, wait! Did I offend you somehow?”

    “Private business!” Foxglove shouted before disappearing in the forest. She quickened her pace, but nobeast was following her.

    I shouldn’t have left like that, she thought. After all, he was just being curious. And he actually was nice… nicer than all the other corsairs I’ve met.

    It was too late to go back, though. Besides, Foxglove truly had some business to do.

     She came back to the village and headed for one particular place, whose owner could provide some goods without asking questions about his clients’ source of payment. However, he had a strict rule about accepting only those things that were cleansed off blood. Foxglove nodded to the place’s owner and put a small ruby on his counter. Yesterday she managed to pluck it out of the silver bracelet Kars had paid with, and Skinflint either didn’t notice the defect or thought it was damaged to begin with. Either way, today she could buy her mother a month’s supply of vittles. After the vixen glutted her rucksack cram-full with bread, dried meat, pickled fish, hard cheese, dried fruits and even a couple of pies, she left the village and headed for a lonely mountain towering over the hamlet.

    Foxglove’s mother, while she was still in her young seasons, had chosen to settle away from the center of the hamlet, midway up the mountain. That put her close to the mountain groves and glades, where a lot of medicine herbs were growing; however, that also put her far from her main customers, the vermin of the village. That wasn’t a problem when there still were customers who went to her for help, but at the moment Foxglove was the only creature that walked the path between the settlement and the mountain over many seasons. Nobeast maintained the path in order any more.

     Earth gave way under Foxglove’s footpaw and crumbled down the steep slope, and the vixen threw her forepaws wide to regain her balance. Her heavy rucksack pulled her backwards, and she faltered on the very edge of the path.

    “Hold on! Coming!” Strong paw gripped Foxglove by the shoulder and pulled her to the firm ground. “There, it’s safe now.”

     Foxglove wasn’t feeling safe, though. When her rescuer grabbed her, she panicked. Foxglove really hated being crept on, especially since those who usually roamed these mountains were not goodbeasts. Once on firm ground, the young vixen spun round and kicked Kars in his knee. The big fox yelped in pain, and Foxglove used this moment to seize him by the collar of his jacket and shove him to the path’s edge, so that his footpaws stood on the ground but his torso leaned over precipice. “Ye were followin’ me, mangled flea-pelt!”

    “And good thing I did, or you’ve fallen down!” retorted Kars.

     Foxglove shook him soundly. “I wouldn’t!”

    “Right, you wouldn’t! Er, Foxglove, can you back off? I’d rather talk with a solid ground under my paws.” His yellow eye was never still, squinting at the deep gap under him.

    “I’d rather not! Getting thrown off the cliff is considered to be a good punishment for bandits and robbers in these places!”

    “Bandits? Robbers?” Something gurgled in Kars’s throat as if he had wanted to laugh but thought better of it. “Look, Foxglove, I’m the Captain’s first mate – my share is second biggest of the whole crew. I’ve got no need to rob anybeast.”

    “With the way you throw it on the wind I won’t be surprised if you go broke tomorrow!”

    “You really think I waste my loot?” asked Kars seriously.

     Foxglove rolled her eyes. After she worked in the tavern so long, she should have got used to the way its clients throw gold and silver left and right. She didn’t – maybe because she had to work so hard for each bread crust she received. “Yes, Kars, you do. You pay in gold and jewels, though simple silver would’ve done, or even brass and copper.”

    “That’s a good advice. Now, can you put me on the firm ground, please?”

     By that time Foxglove’s anger had faded, but she didn’t back away. “You never told me why you were following me.”

    “I… I wanted to know what ‘private business’ you had to do. You ran off without a word – well, I was curious!”

     Foxglove took two steps back, pulling Kars out of danger of falling. The big fox stole a glance at the precipice and shuddered. “Yaarr, you’ve almost killed me, vixen!”

    “Ha, there’s not high enough to kill you,” the vixen noted cheerily. “You would’ve just broken a couple of bones, that’s all.”

    “So you’ve got experience? In throwing beasts off the cliffs, I mean?”

    “Yeah, I’ve thrown down a couple or so of bandits who thought they can rob a lone maid of her scanty belongings. Bottom of a cliff is a good place for bandits… or strangers who jump at beasts from behind.”

     Kars looked offended. “I’m not a stranger.”

     Foxglove gave him a mocking glance. “We’ve met only yesterday. That officially makes you a stranger.”

     Both beasts fell silent after this remark. The silence had lasted for some time before Foxglove’s patience gave out. “What are you waiting for? Go away.”

    “Well, you still hadn’t told me about that ‘private business of yours.”

    “Are you seriously thinking I tell you?” In response, Kars stared at Foxglove. Foxglove stared at Kars. She sighted wearily. “I’m visiting my mother. Bringing her some vittles to live on. Satisfied?”

     The big fox nodded. “Can I go with you?” Foxglove opened her mouth to protest when he continued, “I can make sure no bandits try to bother you… or I can help you carry that rucksack.”

    Foxglove sighed. No harm can come out of this, she reasoned. “All right, let’s go – and no, I won’t let you carry my rucksack.”

     **

     Foxglove’s mother was home; she rarely left her small hut those days. She smiled when Foxglove had entered the hut’s only room; her smile turned into a puzzled look when Kars had followed her.

    “Mother, that’s Kars, an acquaintance of mine, he accompanied me on the way here. Kars, that’s my mother Coltsfoot.”

     The old vixen’s smile widened again. “That was kind of you, Kars, to escort my Foxglove here. Who knows what kind of bandits you can run across in these places?”

     Left paw behind his back and right paw against his heart, Kars bowed from the waist in a formal greeting. “Mar’m Coltsfoot, I pity any bandits that would run across your daughter.”

    “What a polite young beast, and with a proper respect to his elders!” Coltsfoot clasped her paws. “It’s a rarity to meet such a good husband. But,” she raised her claw, “if you ever wrong my Foxglove, I’ll poison you!”

    “Mother!” Foxglove exclaimed, horrified.

    “All right, all right. Don’t worry, won’t poison your suitor. But,” a claw was raised again, “I’ve got a potion that will give a bellyache to last days!”

    “Mother!” Foxglove had regretted her decision to bring Kars along. “It’s not… We’re not a couple! Kars is not a suitor, not a fiancé, not a cavalier! We’re not even friends! We’re just acquaintances!”

    “Shush! Calm down, youngster.” The old vixen turned to Kars now, who was busy observing the floor planks. “Now, look there, young beast. What do you see?” She pointed upwards.

     Kars readily threw his head back; for one moment, his mismatched eyes looked in one direction. “Er, a ceiling, mar’m?”

    “A ceiling, er? So that hole, through which water leaks – no, floods in right upon my head each time it rains, - so I’ve just imagined it, er?”

    “You want me to fix the ceiling?” Kars realized. “Count on me, mar’m Coltsfoot!”

    “Mother! Don’t pester Kars!” pleaded Foxglove. If it were possible for the vixen’s red fur to burn from her blushing, it would’ve certainly caught fire.

    “If he’s good enough to walk you there, he’s good enough to fix the roof,” reasoned her mother.

    “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it,” reassured them Kars. “Where’s your tools?”

    ‘Don’t interrupt beasts while they are harming themselves’ was a common rule among vermin, so Foxglove gave Kars their toolbox and even put a ladder to the hut’s wall for him to climb onto the roof. Even with Kars fixing the ceiling, there were still plenty of chores to do, and Foxglove went to the nearby stream to fetch water for her mother.

     On her way back she passed the hut and listened to the noise: muted curses, loud thump mixed with a crack, loud curses and clunk of something falling. That didn’t sound like proper repairs. The vixen quickly climbed the ladder, “Hey, Kars, you all right?” Her head became level with the roof just in time for her to see how Kars had brought the hammer down on a plank, holding the tool with both paws. Naturally, the nail edged into a plank bent in half and the hapless plank split in the middle.

    “What are you doing?” she gasped. “You don’t put the plank that way – it must overlap the other one like a tiling. And who on the earth holds hammer with both paws? Why didn’t you hold to the nail?”

    “If I do, I hit my claws,” Kars explained shyly.

    “Of course you do if you slam it down with such force as if trying to break somebeast’s skull! Honestly, as if it’s the first time you get a hammer in your paws…”

    “Actually, it is.” Kars’s yellow eye became shiftier than usual, and his green eye attempted to burn a hole in the roof. “I’ve never had to do any work around the house. My parents had me training in fighting since the young age, hoping I would rise in ranks quick. So… I’m good in breaking beasts’ skulls but completely useless in fixing roofs.”

    Why didn’t you say that to begin with? Foxglove wanted to ask, but Kars’s ashamed face restrained her tongue. He’d already properly embarrassed himself by admitting he was not capable of traditional male work. No need to add insult to injury.

    “Give me that hammer. I’ll fix it myself before you wrecked the whole hut,” she said.

     Kars did as he was told, an apologetic expression on his face. “Sorry. I just wanted to help…”

    “You can help. There’s lots of work around. You can chop firewood. I don’t think that needs learning; just make sure you chop along the wood-fiber.”

     Kars’s mood momentary improved. “I can manage that. After all, I can always imagine I’m chopping off some beasts’ heads!”

     With extra paws to help her, Foxglove finished her work till dusk. She waved goodbye for her mother, ready to return to the tavern, but Coltsfoot wouldn’t let her go without filling her rucksack with herbs and potions. Foxglove’s mother didn’t have any patients for a long time, but old habits die hard; besides, Foxglove could sell some of the mixtures in the tavern if she was lucky and if Skinflint didn’t see her.

    “Take good care of my Foxglove,” the old vixen said to Kars. “And remember about the poison!”

    “Don’t worry, mar’m Coltsfoot, I’ve got a good memory,” laughed Kars, making another formal bow. And then, to Foxglove, “Let me carry that sack.”

     This time Foxglove gave her load willingly. If Kars wanted to burden himself, let him do it.

    “You’ve got a great mother,” Kars said once they were on their way back. “Though she has her oddities.”

    “You’re about that talk of poison? That’s just an old healer’s joke. I’ve been hearing it since I was a cub.” Foxglove tried to imitate her mother’s voice, “If you not going to bed right now, I’ll brew a poison to palsy you for days!”

    “Oh yes, that’s too. And the way she immediately thought us to be a couple.”

    “Huh, pay no attention to old vixen’s stupid rambling.”

     Kars stopped. “Stupid rambling? Am I not an enviable fiancé?” he asked, striking a pose.

     That remark had Foxglove laughing out loud. It was quite a time since she had such a fun. “You? Ha! Have you ever seen your reflection in the water? Ha! You can scare the death out of a beast with those eyes of yours! I bet your Captain had you stand watches during the nighttime to use your eyes as signal lights!”

     Kars folded his paws across his chest. “Well, I’m not talking to an ideal of beauty, either! You know, when I first saw you yesterday, I’d thought you got a bucket of water damped on you till I realized you fur is just so sleek! And your tail looks like an otter’s!”

     That hit a sore wound. Thick and bushy fur was an object of pride for any vixen – just not for Foxglove. Her fur and tail was naturally sleeker than the ones of other foxes; besides, she didn’t have time to comb and brush it properly. “Hey, you know what? At least I can go through underbrush and brambles and bare rocks without leaving tufts of fur in my wake!”

    “That’s a good point,” immediately agreed Kars. “There’s one more good point for you: for all the time I served among the corsairs, nobeast had ever tried to stab me in the back. They all think that my left eye is always watching them!”

     Foxglove laughed in spite of her mood. “Are you doing it on purpose? The eye thing?”

    “Nope, it does so by its own. I can focus the stare if I pay attention,” the yellow eye shifted its position and, together with its green counterpart, looked right at Foxglove. However, in a minute the eye began to shiver and finally slid back. “But it goes back once I lose control.”

    “Well, that can be useful,” Foxglove admitted. This was as close to an apology as she could get.

    “So, we’re still friends?” Kars said, offering her a paw.

    Foxglove hesitated. Friend was a strong word; during all her life in the hamlet, Foxglove had some pals but not friends. But Kars looked so heartfelt that she took his paw and shook it. “Friends.”

    “Meet you tomorrow?” suggested Kars. “We need to work on your aiming.”

    “And I can show you some more fighting moves,” the vixen agreed. “Though you’ll need to talk to Skinflint again.”

    “Oh, I will. And yes, I remember: no gold, no gems – only silver. See you tomorrow!”

     ***

    Unknowingly to her, Foxglove had been smiling in her sleep as she relived that day in her dreams. She would have given anything to turn the flow of time back.

For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 25
Prologue || Previous chapter || Next chapter

Being a sappy writer that I am, of course I had to go and write the backstory of Foxglove and her relationship with her husband after killing Kars off during his first appearance. :( Seriously, Foxglove's character is special for me, since she is my first ever Redwall OC – she had been there even before I began working on 'For Freedom', and she had her own story, but then I decided to add her character arc into the main plot. So, I really enjoyed writing these flashback scenes.


Redwall and canon characters @ Brian Jacques

Story and original characters @ me
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     The midday sun had found Wavehound and runaway slaves in rather poor conditions. The managed to take refuge in a narrow rocky crevice, but it was far too cramped to house so many creatures. Rainwater constantly ran down the stone walls, but this also proved to be an inconvenience instead of benefit, for salt and slime on the walls made it undrinkable.

     After counting all the refugees, Wavehound realized there was one missing: Betta. The otter felt sick for losing one of his charges so soon, but he simply couldn’t blame it on the squirrels. Rain, cold and strain of escape weren’t kind to them, especially to those old and weak. Seven beasts had already got a bad cold, and Mlika seemed to have it worse than others. Scanty as the runaways were, they could do little but place the ill at the back of the crevice, away from the wind. Here they huddled, shivering from the chill, even though their fur was hot to touch. Wavehound could only pray for the chill not to grow into fever.

     Wavehound’s gaze fell upon the one he worried about most – Mlika, her family gathered around her. Basko put some shaggy-looking scrubs under her back. “There is some lichen and moss, not much, but it’s better than sitting on cold stones.”

    “That’s better,” the squirrelwife forced the words out. “Funny – my bones ache as if I am some ancient elder. I’ve always thought myself being far under the age when you can predict rain from your back pain.”

     Dewberry, a thin hedgehog who was Thornbush’s wife, walked over to Mlika and wrapped an old ragged cape round her. “Here, the heat will take bone ache away.”

    “You’ll need it for Bramble,” Mlika coughed.

     Dewberry glanced at where her son was playing with pebbles together with the few other little ones, moving stones round according to some rules they thought along with the game. “I still have my scarf to keep him warm. Now, let’s move you further, a little away from these sharp rocks.”

     Wavehound heard heavy pawsteps behind his back. “And what’s now?”

     He was waiting for this question. And he said to Thornbush, “Me and a couple of other beasts will scout for a better shelter, clean water and vittles, may be some medical herbs. I leave you in charge of those who stay there.”

    “You leave me in charge, huh? And who made you a leader to begin with?”

    “Thornbush, will you take care of the others while I’m gone?” just asked Wavehound.

    “Of course I will,” came the answer. “Go and find something worthy; this hole isn’t good for the ill and old to stay.”

     This being said, Wavehound felt relief over leaving his friends in reliable paws. He called for Seabird and Elsie, and all three of them left the crevice.

     Outside, the rain had stopped, though the wind was still howling among rocky hills. Seabird raised her voice to be heard, “Where are we heading?”

    “North,” said Wavehound. “To put as much distance between us and Bladegirt as we can.”

    “Is it worth it?” Elsie argued. “There’s nothing to the north but bare stones.”

     The male otter shook his head. “Oh, there is. The hill slopes aren’t too steep, so there must be ledges with soil layers drifted on, and that means plants – grass, berries, even brakes. And there must be some gullies among the cliffs, with even better conditions for plants’ growth. Not to mention that most springs flow down from mountains.”

     The young vole looked up at him suspiciously. “How do you know all of this with working in the Fort all the time?”

    “Well, being a servant has its benefits. Vermin officers don’t feel the need to watch their tongues with slaves present, and you can take a peek in different maps or papers while cleaning up chambers.”

    “Looks like you’ve been planning this for quite a time,” Elsie murmured as the trio set off.

    “I’ve been planning this all my life,” Wavehound said honestly. “Even since I lived on Green Isle. Plotting, waiting for the right time, except it wouldn’t come… till now.”

     The talk ceased as beasts struggled forward through the slush and slurry dirt. The night rain soaked the earth deep through, making already steep slopes even more greasy and slippery. By the time they reached crest of one of the hills, all three runaways were covered with mud from head to tail.

     Seabird noticed something that looked like bushes at the top of high cliff range, and they headed here for the lack of better guiding line. Wavehound managed to find a narrow path winding upwards round the cliff’s base, and the trio followed it, stretching out into a line. The path had almost reached a flat summit when it got blocked by a boulder higher than an otter’s height.

     Seabird, being a member of Galedeep Clan and the strongest of the three, boosted Wavehound and Elsie up; when they climbed the summit, her friends got hold of the ottermaid’s paws and dragged her up. Finally, after reaching the clifftop, they all paused to catch their breath. In a sudden silence, the scouts heard clear sounds of talons clicking upon stone and low, rumbling screech.

     Wavehound slowly turned round and realized that bushes they had seen from the bottom of the hills were not, in fact, bushes. It was a nest – an enormous aerie made of tangled heap of branches and twigs. And the host of this nest, a giant golden eagle, was approaching them – wings half-spread, neck stretched out, hooked beak open in evident threat.

     The tan otter quickly estimated the situation and bowed. “Good day, sir. Sorry to bother you, sir, we didn’t mean to cause you any troubles.”

     The eagle snapped his beak once before his screech rose higher. “Vermin, today you die.”

     Wavehound took a step back, gently pushing females rearward. “Back off,” he whispered to them. To the bird he said aloud, “No sir, we’re not vermin. We escaped from them and now looking for a place to hide. We’re friends.”

    “Lies, lies, lies!”

    “They are not!” Despite Wavehound’s command, Seabird stepped from behind his back and took a step toward the eagle. “Look, we are otters and a vole! Our kind had never been enemies!”

     The eagle flapped his wings with enough strength for the wind to gust up in the runaways’ faces. “You come steal eggs, you come kill mate, now you come lie. It won’t save you.”

     He spread out his wings widely, baring to their view an assembly of scars on his chest and wings. His right wing did not unfold completely: Wavehound could see a nasty wound on it, a piece of arrowshaft still protruding through the feathers. Its end was clipped short; the eagle must have tried to remove it with his beak, but failed.

    “Please, let us prove we’re friends!” Seabird cried out. “Let me have a look at your wing…”

    “Sea, no!” Wavehound caught his friend’s paw, but the ottermaid shook it free and decisively strode toward the great bird.

     The eagle shrieked and took off with mighty beat of wings. The moment he was in the air, the eagle hurled for Seabird with his claws outstretched. Wavehound grabbed Seabird by her shoulders and jerked her backwards, and both otters stumbled and fell from the clifftop, with the eagle sweeping past above them.

     Wavehound’s back hit the stones of hill slope, and he felt earth reel under them. Before they could roll over the narrow edge of rocky path, a paw seized each otter by the scruff of their necks. It was Elsie, who got down while the otters talked to the eagle. The volemaid didn’t have enough strength to keep her bigger companions from falling, but she hindered the fall enough for Wavehound to get hold of the path, and both he and Seabird scrambled on their footpaws.

     High above them, the eagle screeched as he veered round and dived for another attack.

    “Run!” Wavehound shoved the maidens down the slope ahead of him. They hurried downwards, though their progress wasn’t as fast as they wished, since their path was littered with stone debris, and a sheer cliff dropped down to their left. Wavehound was bringing up the rear of their little group, throwing glances over his shoulder every two steps.

    “Down!” he shouted when he saw the eagle coming at them again. All three beasts went down on their bellies, paws covering heads. The raptor’s talons scratched stones just above Wavehound as the bird rushed past. The eagle flapped his wings and awkwardly lapsed at one side, dropping far below his victims.

    The wounded wing doesn’t let him maneuver properly, Wavehound realized. Then his gaze fell upon deep furrows in the stone cliff where the eagle scraped it. Though he doesn’t need to be over-precise to kill us.

     The eagle had to take some time to gain height, and the former slaves used this time to descend further. Elsie rather abruptly stopped on the path to poke her head into a narrow fissure in the rocky wall. “I think there’s space for all of us.”

    “Fine!” The eagle had folded his wings and dropped; Wavehound rammed his shoulder into Seabird’s back, driving both her and Elsie into the fissure so all three of them burst into the over-narrow and tapered crevice, Elsie almost crushed by her larger companions. The cleft wasn’t wide enough for the eagle to follow; instead, his clawed hind leg shot inside, reaching for his prey. Wavehound pressed himself further in, and sharp talons only brushed his back, catching some fur and a clawful of dirt that stuck to it. The eagle screeched in frustration, butting his body against solid rock.

    “Elsie, you alright?” Wavehound called when he got his breath back.

    “Fine, though I wouldn’t mind more space,” came the muffled reply.

     The otter cast a wary look at the shadow looming at the narrow entrance. “Sorry, no way for that. Sea, you?” he asked, using his friend’s nickname.

    “Not a scratch on me.” Seabird’s voice was sad. “Why he attacked us, Wavehound? We did him no harm.”

    “That eagle is dangerous – one needs only a look at him to know that. You should’ve backed off when I told you,” he couldn’t help adding a bit grudgingly.

    “But we could’ve helped him! He could’ve helped us! We could’ve been allies!”

    “Yeah, but have you seen his scars? Have you heard him say he lost his mate and eggs? Don’t you think he had a good reason to hate vermin?”

    “We are not vermin,” Seabird declared.

    “And how would he know it?” asked Wavehound. “We’re the first slaves who made it to these hills. That means this eagle had only dealt with corsairs before. To him, all earthcrawlers are vermin.”

    “Ah.” Seabird sighed. “I haven’t thought about that. Of course you’re right. But still – auch! Elsie, can you stop elbowing me?”

    “I think I’ve found something!” While otters were talking, Elsie dug at the other end of the cleft, scooping back loose earth and scraping at small rocks. “Here it is!” A tiny sliver of sunlight trickled into their cave through a crack Elsie had widened.

     The sight of it filled tired runaways with enthusiasm. “Throw the earth underfoot, I’ll trample it from getting in your way. Pass me bigger stones, I’ll give them to Wavehound to toss aside.”

    After some work, all three beasts managed to broaden the crack into a hole, large enough for a vole to fit. Further inspection showed that it couldn’t be expended without removing some solid-looking rocks, and they unanimously decided not to risk whole hillside collapsing on them. Elsie slid out of the cleft with no trouble; Seabird had to turn sidelong to squeeze herself into the hole.

    “At least there’s something I can thank the vermin for,” she huffed after finally getting to the other side with a push from Wavehound. “I wouldn’t have fit in if they fed us better.” She looked round at the steep slope they ended on. “Seems we are on the other side of that cliff.”

     Wavehound threw his head back, examining distant clifftop. “Yeah, I can see that eagle’s nest from there. Come on, mateys.”

    “Where to?” Elsie cried out.

     The otter swiftly put a claw to his lips, “Hush, you don’t want our feathered friend to hear us. Come on, we need to get to the top. It’s an excellent view point, and we still need to find water, food and shelter.”

     That was a worthy argument, and the maids followed Wavehound. That hillside had no convenient trail to follow. Instead, it had plenty of chinks to grip and ledges to step on, helping the trio in their rock-climbing ascent. Wavehound went first, checking their holds for solidity. Elsie followed, and Seabird brought up the rear, ready to give her friends a push.

     A strident squawk high above startled Elsie, and she lost her grip on the stone she was pulling herself on. The volemaid’s footpaws slid down the smooth rock – but not too far: one of them had met Seabird’s broad head. The otter braced and held till Elsie found proper foothold.

    “Thanks, Sea. And sorry.”

    “That’s just a gull.” Seabird glanced at her namesake circling overhead. “Gulls are no danger…” The rest of the phrase couldn’t be heard for another shrilling birdcry.

    Wavehound gasped. His eyes widened as if he saw not a gull, but something much more sinister. “Bloody storms and salt seasons! It’s their gull! It marks our position for vermin!” He looked over the surroundings anxiously. “No way to get down on time. Speed up, mateys! They still need some time to get there!”

     And the otter threw all his remaining energy into climbing, practically pushing himself upwards. He reached the summit first, rolled over its ledge and immediately turned to offer a paw to Elsie and Seabird. Pulling them up, he commanded, “Now we’d get out of this place before it’s too late!”

     Then he turned about and almost ran headfirst into a band of corsairs.

For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 24
Prologue || Previous chapter || Next chapter

Meanwhile, things aren't going so well for runaways on Terramort. However, I really enjoy writing Wavehound and Seabird, because they have such an awesome dynamic.

Another fun fact: the golden eagle that appears in this chapter doesn't display the behavior typical for his species in Redwall universe because I wanted to have a character akin to Argulor from 'Mossflower', that would be an equal threat both to woodlanders and villains.


Redwall and canon characters @ Brian Jacques

Story and original characters @ me
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    Abbess Bikkle chose Triss’s room as a meetings place for the War Council, so the Swordmaid could take part in it. Skipper Rumbol dumped a pile of maps and other papers on a small table, and Grawn sat himself here, taking a chance to study maps of Mossflower. Mother Abbess, Captain Longstep, Hart Oakspike and Broom settled round. Foremole Ruggum had also come, supported by Brother Turfee; the mole’s paws were covered with bandages. Simon perched a little aside, as if he felt uneasy being here. Freedom could understand him, because she felt the same.

     Leaders of the Abbey invited her and Maple because they thought that runaways could give them useful information about Darm’s army. It was true, but Maple was the one talking. It amazed Dom how much he had learned just by ‘watching and listening carefully’, as he called it.

    “I didn’t have time to count all the soldiers,” the young squirrel said, “but there were five ships in the hideout harbor – six together with Deathtrap. She carried a crew of seventy beasts, and if we take it as average size of a crew, that makes an army of four hundred and a score… No, a little less,” he corrected himself. “About a score and a half left with Shamra and Greywhisker. It’s about four hundred then.”

    “Old Greewhiskers left?” Longstep jumped in his chair. “Haha, that jolly sly-paws knows when to take to hees heels!”

    “You know him, too?” asked Grawn.

    “Known him since he called heemself Darkwhiskers, wot! Vermeen like changin’ names that no longer fit them, that’s h‘t. Wee fought slimskins together, me, him, One-eer and…”

    “Can us save the story for the later?” said Hart crossly. “We hast vermin to worry about! Where art that lair o’ them, I shall like to know!”

    “I think I can find it in the map,” Maple bowed over the table, studying papers. “Give me a minute…”

    Freedom dropped her head on her paws – and then she saw a blur of white with the very corner of her eye. She turned round, but there was nobeast and nothing behind her except for a window. But I saw it! Freedom thought. The mousemaid had good eyesight, and it had never deceived her. She took a paper from the table, pretending to study it, and carefully cast a sidelong look without turning her head.

    There it was – a small white gull sitting on the windowsill, its head close to the glass. But there is no reason for a bird to behave like this, unless… unless it was sent here by somebeast!

    “I do remember where the vermin camp is!” Freedom announced, pulling the map out of Maple’s paws. She picked up a charcoal stick and scribbled in the corner, ‘Don’t look at the window. There’s a gull spying on us.’

    Rumbol’s brows raised a little, but that was the only sign of surprise he showed. “Are you sure it was near the stream?” he said loudly and made a postscript, ‘The less vermin know is the better. Let them think we know nothing and don’t plan to do anything.’

     Skipper put the map across the table for everybeast to see while Dom and Maple continued the play. “I definitely remember walking through the birch grove.”

    “But we passed it two days before that. The camp is in the hills.”

    “No, near the stream!”

    “So, you don’t know where it is,” Triss concluded. The youngsters shook heads, trying to look guiltily. “It’s not your fault; after all, you’re new to these places. What should we do now?”

    “I don’t think there’s much we can do, except for keeping sentries on the walls,” Grawn said. “We can’t attack Darm without knowing where his base is, and it’s possible that he had already left these woods.”

    “That seems the most reasonable,” Bikkle agreed. “If so, I declare the Council closed. We’d better take our leave and not tire Triss out.”

    “You’d better,” Brother Turfee said loudly. “Triss’s wounds are so severe that she needs great amount of time to heal.”

     This statement took Freedom by surprise. Hadn’t the mouse brother said Triss was healing just fine when they came in? The she caught a wink passing between Turfee and Bikkle and realized that it, too, was part of the play. Triss looked after departing beasts with longing, though she said nothing.

     Nobeast parted at the room’s exit; all eyes were on the Mother Abbess. “Now, would you like to go down into the Cellars and have a sip of refreshing dandelion cordial?” she said. The cheer of agreement was an answer, and the squirrelmaid lead the way, slowing her pace to match Foremole’s limp.

     Freedom could see the reasons behind Mother Abbess’ thinking – underground Redwall Cellars, with no windows and thick walls, were safe against eavesdroppers. The mousemaid followed the others, enjoying the coolness of air in the lower floor of the Abbey.

     Mother Bikkle paused at the door and put a finger to her lips. “Shh, follow quietly.”

     The beasts tiptoed through a small lobby to the door leading further downstairs. Bikkle, however, lingered to throw a coverlet over Gurdle Sprink, who dozed off in a chair.

    Other members of the War Council waited for her in the main Cellars room. “Good old Gurdle”, the Abbess smiled, taking her seat at the head a big table. “He loves these Cellars too much to leave them, even though he doesn’t grow younger with seasons. Broom, would you be so kind not to seat on that barrel? That would make the ale go turbid. Now, let’s continue our conference, so to say.”

    “I do remember location of the vermin camp, by the way,” Maple put in. Skipper Rumbol sorted through his papers and gave him the right one, and Maple almost immediately put a cross on it. “There it is.”

    “Good,” the otter Skipper nodded. “Anything else?”

    “It’s camouflaged well, and there’re archers on the trees all round the periphery, and… I’ve already mentioned everything else I know.”

    “You was a great help,” Broom put a paw on his son’s shoulder; the pride in his voice was hard to hide. “Now, I don’t think we’ll need you two here anymore. Would you like to go or stay here?”

     Freedom and Maple exchanged glances, and the squirrel answered for them both, “We’d rather stay, if you don’t mind.”

     Abbess Bikkle took the floor again, “Okay, now let’s move on to the main question: what are we going to do with that bird spy?”

    “I can shoot it,” Grawn suggested. “Not mortally, of course, but a nasty wound would keep it off the Abbey.”

    “Nay, nay, nay!” Hart sprung up, waving his paw. Everybeast’s eyes turned at the Waterhog: it was so unlike him to become agitated like this. “Why dispel the one who shall help us beguile thy weasel lord?”

    “Oi dun’t think the burd’ll ‘elp us unless broibed,” Ruggum burred. “An’ evun then it’ll loikely to betray us.”

    “Ai don’t think that’s what Hart meent, wot,” Longstep said, nodding to the hedgehog. “You meent that we can feed the bird false inteelligence, am Ai right?”

    “Precisely. It’s like that – we know we’re spied on, but the vermin don’t know that we know, and we know that they don’t know that we know, so we can make them think they know that we don’t know…”

    “Yes, that’s fairly clear.” Rumbol shook his head, trying to get rid of all the ‘knows’ ringing in his ears. “Any ideas what can we use this for?”

    “May I say something?” Simon looked for approval around the table and went on. “I’ve just remembered a trick that was pulled on Damug Warfang the Greatrat, making him accept battle at a place favorable for Redwallers, not for Rapscallions. We can do the same, give Darm information that will make him fight on our conditions.”

    “Do you have any particular place in mind?” the Abbess said.

    “I was thinking about cliffs north-west from Redwall,” the young otter pondered aloud. “It would’ve been easy to hold positions atop them. But they’re a day’s march away, and I doubt Darm would go that far.”

    “And he won’t start a battle on obviously bad terms, either,” Freedom added. “He’ll easily recognize a trap in these cliffs.”

    “I have another suggestion,” Broom called on. “What about swamps Maple had mentioned? Let’s see how vermin would like fighting knee-deep into a quagmire, especially if there’re hostile toads!”

     Lord Grawn shook his striped head. “I’m afraid our soldiers will have the same difficulties fighting there.”

    “Not if we send squirrels. They can travel among treetops and pour the enemy with arrows and slingstones.”

    “The problem ees we have too little jolly squirrels, wot,” Captain Longstep glanced over some writings. “Feefty tree-hoppers, countin’ Pineforesters, woodlanders an’ those from Redwall. Feefty’s too little against four hundreed, Broom. Sah.”

    “We’ll take it as a reserve variant,” Bikkle suggested.

     Hart Oakspike slammed his big paw on the table. “Tooth Cape – why not?”

     Both Rumbol and Simon roused at that name. “A perfect trap!”

    “Vermin won’t know what hit them!”

    “Aye, I thought the same, thy vermin shall hast no way out.”

     Mother Abbess raised her voice, silencing the speakers. “Now maybe you’ll be so kind to explain us what are you talking about?”

    “Sure, sure,” Skipper slightly bowed his head. “Tooth Cape is a place at the southern tributary of river Moss, about half-day march from Redwall. It juts out far into the river, a narrow piece of land shaped like a tooth. If we manage to get vermin there and then strike from the shore, they’ll have no way to retreat to except for the Cape itself.”

    “Which will restrain their ability to fight in formations,” Grawn continued. “They won’t be able to use their numerical superiority. The narrow space will hamper them, and their numbers will turn into a weakness. I like this plan.”

    “Yes, but there’re more advantages to us in this place,” Rumbol smiled. “The Cape’s shape wasn’t the only reason for its name. This area is inhibited by toothfish. These fish are small, not bigger than a mouse’s paw from clawtips to wrist. But they are predators that always swim in shoals and attack every creature that gets in this tributary – beasts, birds, other fish. Several of them can’t inflict serious wounds, but they’re attracted by blood, and when a large shoal gathers...”

     A shudder ran down Grawn’s back. “That’s a cruel death. Too cruel, even for vermin.”

    Hart got up his footpaws, his voice very low, “Thee want to say that the Waterhogs died a kind death?”

    “I don’t mean such a thing; what I mean is that there’re lines we shouldn’t cross, even in war.” Grawn said. “We fight to protect innocent, and don’t compete with vermin in cruelty.”

    “You make it sound as if we do it out of pleasure,” Abbess Bikkle noted. “We don’t. Darm’s army outnumbers us, Lord Grawn. Long Patrol, Redwallers, Waterhogs and woodlanders – all together we make it only two hundred and fifty against Darm’s four hundred.”

    “I know. You’re right. I should save lives of woodlanders above all,” Grawn said and added with resolute firmness, “But once the trap is closed, I’ll parley with Darm and offer him to lay down weapons. If the vermin have sense, they’ll see their gains.”

     Nobeast objected. Then Captain Longstep said, “One more theeng we should discuss. That bloody Deethtrap laid a siege on Redwall.”

    “But we already know about it,” Broom pointed out.

    “No, not ‘declare-Ai-want-to-take-over-Redwall’ kind of siege. Ai meen ‘put-archers-round-the-Abbey-and-shoot-at-anybeest-appearing’ kind of siege. Ai tried to do some scouting earlier, wot, and each time Ai opened small gates even for a claw’s breadth, Ai got an arrow next to ma paw!”

    “Oh no, not this!” Simon cried out. “If we have to fight out way out, then we can’t – can’t set up an ambush, that’s what I want to say.”

    “We should definitely think on it,” Skipper Rumbol frowned.

     For about a minute, silence hung in the air. Then Foremole Ruggum said, “Huburr, why kan’t we tunnel ur ‘ay out?” Attention of the whole Council shifted to him, and young mole explained, drawing lines on the table desk with his digging claw. “Start at one o’ de walls, dig under it an’ lead tunnul out at noice forest sheltar loike pile o’ rocks or empty log, hu-orr.”

    “Sensible,” Grawn nodded. “Even if our plans regarding Tooth Cape change, it’s always useful to have a way in the enemy's rear.”

    “Good, good,” Bikkle patted her friend’s paw. “I know you can’t dig yourself till your wounds are healed, but you can supervise the works. How long would it take?”

    “Hum, had to see the eurth first,” Ruggum said. “Strategikul points asoide, ‘here’s soil friability to consider, an’ modulus of rigidity, an’ cavin’ probability. Shure, the danger of facing upheavals an’ carrier offset ‘cause of, say, voids in rock are low, but we ‘ave to remember…”

    “How long, Ruggum?”

    “Six days. Mebbe seven.”

    “Don’t you have you molecrew, moles from Stonehall and those all round Mossflower?” Rumbol asked. “I’m sure you can cope faster!”

     The Foremole sternly looked over him. “Do ye need a tunnul that will serve fur seasons or the wan that will cullapse afte’ ye set footpaw in it?”

    “We’ll leeve jolly diggin’ for ye moles an’ take care of the rest, wot,” Longstep promised and turned at other Council members. “We’d better hide that bloomy tunnel works from some birdie’s eyes.”

    “Well, it’s something to be thought over in its time,” the Abbess said. “And the last thing: talk to nobeast about what you heard there. Not that I don’t trust Redwallers and our guests; I don’t trust the spy outside. If you have to discuss something important, do it only in rooms with no window, and keep the Dibbuns out of this – little rascals repeat everything they hear!”

    Everybeast was nodding solemnly, including Freedom and Maple, and Bikkle’s frown changed to a smile, “Now what about some dandelion cordial?”

     ***

     At the same time, some distance away in Mossflower Woods, another War Council was held. Captains of Deathtrap’s army gathered in a big tent that served as a meeting hall and was adjoined with another one that was Darm’s personal quarters.

     Clyde sprawled about on a low seat with pillows tucked at his back; Tamant was sitting aside, his tail lay neatly round his paws. Zorra leaned against canvas wall, twiddling her thin long lance. The stoat kept casting uneasy glances at those two: they’ve always been strange ones, difficult to comprehend for a beast like Clyde.

     Two more Captains walked in the tent. Arrowfly’s slight limp was the only almost gone consequence of her injury in Shamra’s escape, but Catcher leaned heavily on the weasel’s shoulder. He headed to where Clyde was lounging. “Give me that seat, Clyde.”

     The sturdy stoat snorted, “Why should I?”

    “’cause I was wounded in battle, and you wasn’t.”

    “I came here first.”

     Catcher opened his dark blue cloak wide, showing a row of bandages going round his chest. “I got an otter’s spear through my ribs when I tried to get my crew on Redstone Abbey walls. Where were you then, Clyde? Sitting your tail off in the camp an’ pulling sinews out of some unfortunate creature?”

    The challenge was issued. Clyde rose to his paws. He was taller and heavier than Catcher, whose age was showing in silver streaks lining the ferret’s dark grey fur. But Catcher didn’t stepped back, and he didn’t reach for his cutlass. He just stared at Clyde with resolution of a beast sure of his rights.

     Clyde seized his sword and felt a slight prickle on his paw as he did so. Arrowfly was holding her dagger offhandedly, its point touching Clyde’s wrist. She too did not take eyes off him. Worse, with the back of his skull Clyde could feel Tamant and Zorra staring at him. If a fighting broke he would be in minority.

     Clyde stepped aside. “Take yer foul seat.”

     Catcher slumped on the seat heavily and moved to make place for Arrowfly. Both Captains seated themselves comfortably where Clyde lounged alone.

    They hadn’t been waiting for long when Darm Deathtrap walked in a prompt step, Nabon close behind him. Lord of the Seas had taken off his armor and helmet, but still wore the chainmail tunic. His right paw was in a sling, though his eyes blazed with anger that compensated any wound.

    Darm didn’t waste time on greetings. “Does anybeast know what ‘blockade’ means? What I meant while giving orders was: nobeast gets out. Nobeast gets in. Was that clear?” The answer was hastened nods from all the Captains. “If so, how fourscore of hogs and other woodlanders got into Redwall without being stopped? Tamant?”

     The scout Captain was already up his paws. “We’ve caught sight of them only when they were at the range of the Abbey’s walls. Sentries were too few to strike an attack on their own, and reinforcements had no chance to get there in time. My apologies, Lord.”

    “But it was your job to notice them. Didn’t you have a bird on watch?”

    “Ragfeathers was watching the Abbey and its dwellers, not Mossflower Woods. He is a good spy, but he can’t watch over everybeast.”

    “Then maybe we should recruit more bird spies?” Nabon said.

     Darm slightly dipped his head. This was an idea he appreciated. “Silentblade, you’ll do it. Talk to jackdaws and magpies, they would sell their own nestlings for a pawful of shinings. I want to know everything that’s going on in this area.”

     Tamant saluted, and Darm continued, “Any news of Greywhisker and the traitors?”

     The brown rat was solemn. “Greywhisker knows my ways of tracking, so the old haggler made sure not to leave any traces. But since we’ve learned from the prisoner they’re heading for our ships, I will be able to pick up trail at some distance from here, when the traitors give a slack.”

    “No, I don’t want to scatter my forces.” Deathtrap raised a corner of his mouth in a dark grin. “I’ll take on Redwall first and deal with that treacherous spawn of mine and her followers later. Have you heard from Krugg Bloodpike?”

    “Not a trace of him, his crew or his ship. I dare say he has probably betrayed you too, Lord.”

     Darm shook his head. “I’d rather say he’s dead. Krugg wasn’t smart enough to sail off on his own.” Finally Darm paid his attention to other Captains. “Now get down to business – Redwall Abbey. We must seize it till the summer end at the latest.”

    “Why, Lord?” said Clyde. “If we got Redwall in the blockade, can’t we just wait and starve them?”

     The weasel warlord rolled his eyes. “Tell me again, why had I made you a Captain?”

    “’cause cruelty and intrepidity are just as needful as gumption and intelligence,” Clyde replied in a monotone that sounded as something learned by rote.

     Darm motioned for his son. “Tell him, Nabon.”

    “Redwallers have a pond in there, and orchards where they grow food,” Nabon said proudly. “The full siege wouldn’t be effective unless we destroy their sources of fresh water and provisions.”

    “Right, and one more thing to remember – this summer Guosim shrews had left Mossflower to meet their kindred,” Darm said. “When they return, I’m going to greet them from the inside of the Abbey’s walls. Enough talking.” He looked over his Captains to make sure he got all their attention. “Each of you will receive an assignment. Each of these assignments has a part to play in the battle for Redwall, so you all do you job as best as I need. If you don’t, you’d better make sure you die in battle, because it will be less painful than if you are to answer to me.”

     Darm made a pause for the information to sink in, then turned to Zorra. “What moon phase is it?”

     The vixen wasn’t surprised by sudden change of subject. “The third quarter was at its peak two days ago, Lord.”

     Darm Deathtrap walked to the tent’s entrance and stared at the sky. “Hmm. What about the wind?”

     Zorra followed him; other Captains discreetly decided it wasn’t their job and stayed where they were. “North-wester, about the same strength as today, and it will hold for four days at the least.”

    “Hmm, four days. I need five. Look at that cloud over the western horizon. Will it turn into a rain cloud or get cleared away by the wind?”

    “Neither. I suppose it will spread out with the wind.”

    “You suppose? I don’t plan battles on guess-work. If you can’t predict weather, find somebeast who can.”

    “It’s true that no beast can take weather for granted, Lord,” said Zorra. “But my forecasts are extremely accurate. I can say we shouldn’t expect a rain because the air doesn’t smell of water, and the storm passed just two days ago. And I can see it wouldn’t clear away since even though the cloud has feathery streaks at the top, its underneath has that nacreous coloring…”

    “Don’t go into such details,” Darm interrupted. “What I need to know it what the weather will be in five days. Keep watching and report to me if you spot any changes.”

     Arrowfly, the youngest of Captains, whispered into Catcher’s ear, “What the weather has to do with that Abbey?”

    The ferret awkwardly jerked his right shoulder. That was his way of shrugging, a habit developed many seasons ago, when toad lance speared his other shoulder. “Dunno. It has to do something, I s’ppose. It’s not our job to think about it, though. Our job is to carry out orders and try to keep our crews safe.”

     Darm Deathtrap went back to claim his place at the meeting tent. “The attack will be launched in five days. Mind this deadline. Tamant. Have you checked the Abbey’s defenses as I asked you?”

    The chief scout dipped his head. “Yes, Lord. The place you have told me about truly proved to be the weakest spot in Redwall defense.”

    “We’ll break in there then,” the weasel lord commanded. “Train five of your best beasts for this work. Put them under drills so intense that they would perform their task blindfold. The weapon master will provide you with necessary breaking tools. And check Redwallers’ positions regularly in case they decide to fortify.”

     Tamant barked his ‘yessir’, and Darm turned to other Captains. “Catcher. I’ve been told about that device you came up with. I want to discuss it in private later.”

     Catcher heaved to stand, but Darm waved him to stay seated. The ferret Captain saluted him anyway, “Glad to be of use, sir. Thought that idea of mine can be helpful.”

    “It certainly is. How many crewbeasts do you need to construct it and would you be in form to command them with your state of health?”

     Catcher pressed his paw to his chest. “Sir, I’m not fit to lead my crew into battle for a while, but I can command construction works just fine. In five days time I can cope with thirty beasts, though it depends on some structure details.”

     Deathtrap seemed content with the answer. “We’ll talk about the details later. Arrowfly, Zorra, you’re going to work together. Arrowfly, you take command of Zorra’s crew to build a battering ram and train to use it. In battle you should ram attack Redwall’s main west gates. Zorra, you take Arrowfly’s archers and cover up ramming crew with valley of arrows. In battle you should take position in the trench across west gates, so train to prepare for such setting.”

     Arrowfly exchanged a look with puzzled Catcher, glanced at imperturbable Zorra and dared to ask a question, “Um, Lord, don’t you think we can get better results without swapping crews?”

    Darm allowed himself a wry smile, “I know you work best with crews that’s been serving with you all this time. But I need a weasel to command the ramming crew.”

    “Ah, so I am to wear your armor during the battle?” this was more statement than question: Darm and Arrowfly had already pulled this trick a couple of times.

    “Exactly,” the warlord confirmed. “Your main task will be to draw to the western wall as much of enemy force as possible. Both you and Zorra would use these five days to get a knack of working with unfamiliar crew.” Both Captains dipped their head, and Darm went on, “And one thing. Since you’re to provide distraction, don’t risk your soldiers without need. But don’t hold them back either. There’s always a chance of something going wrong, and then ram attack will be the only means to break into. And even if everything goes as planned, our positions will only improve from getting into the Abbey from two ways. Clyde, your crew together with my personal guard and the rest of Catcher’s crew will be the main striking force of the attack. You must get ready for it. Put your soldiers through as much drills as you think needful.”

     Clyde grinned contentedly. He liked drills. They allowed him not to hold back his temper. “Sure, Lord.”

    “And what about me, father?” Nabon said. “Shouldn’t my crew get an assignment as well?”

    Oh yes, Nabon, Darm thought. “A special assignment for you. You should supervise all the works, report if anything goes wrong and put your crew in work where the help is needed.”

    “I won’t fail you, father!” The young weasel saluted twice, full of enthusiasm.

    Now tell me about getting paid without robbing, Darm concluded in his thoughts. In such a position his heir wouldn’t be able to do any real harm, for all of the Captains were experienced enough not to obey orders issued not by him. In a dire situation they would report to Darm first. Not to mention Nabon getting educated in war art without harming his pride.

    “I believe there is one more question to discuss, Lord,” Tamant said when Darm was about to close the meeting. “A hawk had been attacking our forces all day, the one that interrupted our ambush at Long Patrol. He would drop from the sky, kill one of our soldiers and soar away before weapons can be drawn. We already had three soldiers killed and one maimed.”

    “Do I really need to teach you such things?” Lord of the Seas snapped. “You of all beasts should remember that if it looks like you’re losing the game, it’s time to change rules! When you recruit some jackdaws or magpies, ask them about that hawk. They should know where he nests. Creep on him in the night and kill him while he sleeps!”

    “Yes, Lord. There is more news Ragfeathers reported to me earlier, the one you might like to hear. He saw one of our soldiers, a vixen from Catcher’s crew, being held captive in Redwall sick bay.”

    “So,” a wry smile appeared on Darm’s face. “You say there is one of my soldiers inside the Abbey? Well, I sure can use it…”

For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 23
Prologue || Previous chapter || Next chapter

This chapter is pretty much dedicated to war councils – here, we have plots inside plots and spy games. Plus, enjoy the dynamics between Darm's officers, as I admit that it was one of my favourite parts to write.

Redwall and canon characters @ Brian Jacques

Story and original characters @ me
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    “Send help for the others, right now!” roared Betta, nearing Skief. “You should, you must do it!” The rats staggered away, concern and bewilderment on their faces. It took Betta a few seconds to realize they were startled by her sudden outburst. Faltering and stammering from nervousness, the badgerwife told them the story of the slaves’ escape. “Vermin are after them! You’ve got to help them!” she urged.

     Skief stepped back to have a look at a water-clock – two connected jars standing on a slab of stone, a thin stream of water pouring from the upper jar into the lower one through a tiny holy. Stonebreaker scratched his claw on clay to mark the level. “It’s almost noon at Upper Terramort. Rolt cannot go above during daylight; the risk is too high.”

    Betta growled deep in her throat. In a moment, she grabbed Skief by shoulders and shook him. “My friends are in danger! I’ll make you save them, dirty ratbag!”

     With a jerky move Skief broke loose from her grip, his weapon at ready in his paws. “Do not treat me, stripedog! I’m sorry about your friends, but I won’t doom my whole Clan by sending beasts above, where they are surely to be seen!”

     Red haze began to cloud Betta’s eyes. “I’ll go here myself if all you can do is to rot in these caves like mudworms!”

    “How dare you…”

    Crack! Both Betta and Skief flinched at jarring sound: Skadi threw down an earthenware dish with all her might. “Go on, idiots! Start a fight, that’s exactly what we need!”

     “It was a very fine dish,” muttered Skief, staring at scattered earthenware shards.

     “Don’t change the subject, Pebble! Just look at you two! My little son knows better than shouting his throat out like that!”

     Stonebreaker let out a small chuckle. “Skadi, shouting louder than everybeast else is Sig’s main argument in any wrangle.”

    Skadi gave a scornful sniff. “Now you’re proud of being as smart as a little ratlet? You know you can’t leave other beasts for mercy of those horrible corsairs! Now to you, Betta – you should know that attacking you saviors is the lowest thing a beast can do!”

     “That’s very true.” That calm voice belonged to Skvold. Betta turned to see the aged rat still on the bedding, staring at them. Logi, quite the contrary, turned his back on them, going through his storage of dried herbs and roots.

     Betta suddenly felt ashamed for Skvold seeing such a quarrel. “Sorry,” she said. “But anyway, I won’t abandon my friends.”

     “True,” agreed Skvold. “It’s not right to leave goodbeasts without help.”

     “Yes, that’s not right,” slowly said Skief. “But I still cannot send otherbeasts to Upper Terramort.” Before Betta’s angry growl came out of her throat, he continued, “So I’ll go there by my own.”

     “But, Pebble,” breathed out Skadi. “If you’re to be seen, you’ll have no chance against corsairs!”

     “A group of beasts have no chances against all Bladegirt, too. One rat can hide more easily from their eyes. I’ll go out, find those escaped slaves and lead them down here.”

     “That’s a right decision,” nodded Skvold. “You shouldn’t go yourself, though. You’re a brave rat, Skief, but you don’t belong above. You’ll need a beast who’d once been an upperdweller.”

     “Stonebreaker? Skadi?” A beast carrying a tray laden with food made way through a curtain of lichen that served as a canopy door. “Gerda thought you’d like to have a bite.”

    The beast was a female ferret about several seasons younger than Betta herself. She wore the same roughly-spun tunic of sandy-and-brown colors as the rats did, and she looked attractive in it, even though her ash-grey fur was stiff and her right ear was nicked by a blade.

     “Idunna! We’re lucky to have you here!” Skief exclaimed. “We’re in urgent need for an upperdweller who knows mountains of the above as his own claws. You must know such a beast, am I right?”

     The ferret blinked; it took her several seconds to answer. “Surt knows Upper Isle best of all, but he’s fishing somewhere at Snake’s Eye, and I gather you’re short of time, so I may do, too. I’ve had my share of wandering in the mountains.”

     Stonebreaker explained the situation in a few words, and Betta had to admit he did the better work of it than she. Idunna nodded and turned to the badgerwife. “Betta, yeah? Do you know exactly where your friends were going?”

     Betta shook her head. “Doubt Wavehound’d ever been to those mountains. Slaves aren’t allowed further than crop fields.”

     “But which way were you heading, at least? North-east, straight north, north-west?”

     Betta shrugged. All she remembered of the escape was the shocking openness and vastness that left her completely disoriented after seasons in the dark Barn.

     Idunna let out a pained sigh. “Don’t think they made it to the northern shoreline,” she mused. “Better start checking from southern foothills… Skief, can I borrow your knife? The armory is too long a way round.”

     The rat handed her a short dagger with wide triangular blade – more a tool of a mason than a weapon. “Give me one, too,” barked Betta.

     “Oh no, you are not going above!” Logi spun round to face her for the first time since the argument. “That’s the healer’s order!”

     Betta was ready to snap at him, but she was saved by Idunna. “Please, Logi! I’ll need help. After all, I’m a ferret, so those woodlanders would likely attack me first and ask questions later!”

     “All right,” surrounded the fox. “You’ll get no weapons though, stripedog. Keep out of fighting!”

     Betta said nothing, her heart rate picked up at the thought of encounter with vermin. If it came to fighting, her claws and teeth would do as good as any blade.

     “We’re not going to let anybeast see us to begin with,” said Idunna. “So let’s go!” Betta followed Idunna out of the cave and into the tunnel about two badger’s heights tall and just as wide. Lots of offshoots and sidepasses were branching of it, but Idunna knew her way and lead Betta without stopping to look at symbols carved at the turnings. There were rats all over the tunnels, and many of them called to Idunna, though the ferret kept waving her paw and crying “Later!” The farther they went, the fewer beasts they met, and finally the badger and the ferret were the only creatures in this part of the tunnels.

     Now, with the need to fight and to argue gone, Betta felt the strain of previous night and early morning leave her. They were going to rescue her friends, and this knowledge made her relax her tense muscles, and she calmed down enough to take interest in their surroundings.

     Betta noticed the tunnel walls were truly luminous – they were covered with short downy moss that glowed with white light. “What’s this?”

     Idunna looked over her shoulder to see what she was pointing at. “Oh, this? Lightmoss. We plant it in all the caves and tunnels except for sun grounds.”

     “Sun grounds?”

     “Several large caves on higher levels that have wide cracks and holes in the ceiling, so the sunlight reaches all the way down. Those cracks and holes are up in the mountains, among clifftops so high and steep that nobeast can climb them, and we shouldn’t worry about hiding them. We grow moss and lichen and mushrooms in normal caves, ‘cause they don’t need sun. On sun grounds we grow plants that need sunlight – some crops and roots. Not many, though; the sun doesn’t stay there all day.”

     Betta ran her paw across the wall. Its surface was flat and smooth beneath the moss. “Had you dug out all these tunnels?”

     “Oh no!” Idunna sounded amused. “They were there even before Gabool the Wild first set a footpaw on the Isle. Rolt still had a paw in it, though, by making shortcuts to connect different parts of the tunnels and enlarging narrow caves and passages. And the tunnels are to be watched to prevent cave-ins and soil collapses. Chef makes sure of it.”

     “Chef?” asked Betta.

     “Chieftain, yeah, I mean Skief.”

     “He has an awful lot of names, that leader of yours. Chef, Skief, Stonebreaker, Pebble…”

     Idunna laughed, “Hey, you don’t call Stonebreaker Pebble unless you’re his wife! That’s Skadi’s privilege only!”

     Betta felt corners of her mouth lifting – she was smiling for the first time in seasons. The sensation was so strange to her now. Chatting with a ferret was no less strange, though.

     “Why had you left Bladegirt?” The question came out unexpectedly harsh. “Logi said Darm had your brother killed – is that right?”

     Idunna flinched and stopped to a halt, her shoulders tensed. “I don’t wonna talk about it.”

     “Why?” A sharp pang of suspense ran through Betta’s pelt. Was it a mistake to trust these vermin? “Are you still loyal to Darm?” she demanded, grabbing Idunna’s collar. “Is it a trap?”

     “What a piece of nonsense!” The ferretwife took a step back, looking indignant. “I just don’t want to talk. Something tells me you won’t be happy to throw words round about your isle burning down, either!”

    An endless stream of unwanted memories flooded Betta. Fire and smoke, and the smell of scorched fur. Cries of pain and despair all around her. A sickening feeling in her chest where an arrow hit her. The badgerwife shut her eyes tight before the lightmoss had begun to bleed red, but this only made the memories more vivid. They urged her to roar, to move, to fight. No, no. Not now. She buried her face in her paws, groaning as she sank to her knees.

     “Betta? What’s it with you?” A low buzzing was filling her ears, so she could barely hear this voice. “Look, I’m sorry about what I said; I hadn’t thought it would affect you so much…”

     “Do not… mention it,” Betta sighed, breathing in deeply. Her heartbeat slowed down a little, but she still didn’t trust herself to open her eyes.

     “Can I help you somehow?” Idunna touched her shoulder, and the badger shrank back.

     “No, no. Just don’t mention it again… please. I barely could hold the Bloodwrath down.”

    “Blood-wrath?” There was fear in Idunna’s voice. “Is that how they call it when a creature goes into frenzy and kills everybeast he sees?”

     “Kind of.” Betta dared to half-open her right eye. She could see no red haze, so she dropped her paws and got up, staggering slightly. “I’m all right now, don’t worry.”

     Idunna, however, was clearly worried. “An’ how often do you have such… fits?”

     “Almost every time I see a vermin. I guess I’ll never forget all the seasons I spent in chains.”

     “Rats of Lower Terramort are no enemies to you,” Idunna said slowly. “Fort soldiers will kill me if they see me, and they’ll do the same if they see any of Rolt. We’re taking this risk for your friends.”

     “I – I understand, with my head. But with my heart… When you refused to talk, I – I just panicked, and… and…” Betta faltered. How could she explain all that turmoil and delirium she herself had never truly understood? “I’m sorry. I – I’ll try to keep myself in paws.”

     Idunna nodded, then motioned at the tunnel. “Let’s go. Your friends are waiting.”

     Betta was happy to leave the matter behind. They walked only a few steps, though, when the ferretwife said, “He was a member of Fort Guard, you know.”

     “Huh?”

     “My brother. If that’s what you want to know.” Betta said nothing, and Idunna continued, “He was a promising warrior, one of the best. Almost nine seasons ago he came to me and said he got a very important assignment. He was appointed to guard Deathtrap’s wife and make sure nobeast can harm her. But that was only a part of assignment. Darm ordered my brother to kill his wife if she shows any fear or hesitation or pity – ‘proves to be unworthy’, as he put it. Of course, this second part was supposed to be a great secret, but my brother had trusted me to keep it. In two days, beasts from one of the ships rebelled. There were tension between them and Darm before, and it was no surprise when they declared themselves free of his authority. Deathtrap put his wife in charge of a crew and sent her to stifle a mutiny. I was a part of the punitive crew, so I saw what had happened.” Idunna’s voice became uneven. “That poor creature was a delicate maid, not a warrior. When she saw her soldiers dying, she got scared out of her senses and called a retreat. And my brother executed his orders. He had to. But only the moment later, another of the Guard had killed him. I – I would’ve believed it to be an accident if Deathtrap hadn’t declared my brother a traitor sided with rebels and hanged his body over Fort’s gates to make an example of him. Can you see now? He used my brother as a tool to do dirty work for him – and then he disposed of him because he knew too much. Then he made a good performance, playing disconsolate widower for everybeast to see!”

     Idunna fell silent, just as Betta did. After all, what could she say at this? Two beasts walked for a couple of minutes before Betta broke awkward silence. “And then you escaped and joined Rolt?”

     “No. And then I attempted to kill Deathtrap and avenge my brother.” The ferretwife caught Betta’s glance and touched her left side just below her ribs. “But his bodyguards know their job well. I got a blade in my ribs and a trip from Bladegirt’s wall to the rocks at the seashore. Luckily for me, Rats of Lower Terramort found me and nursed me back to life.”

     Betta nodded: futile attempts to fight were too familiar to her. “And you’d never tried to avenge your brother again?”

     Idunna took a sudden interest in the stones under her footpaws. “I’d wanted to, and I still want. But if I do anything, it would expose Rolt’s existence to pirates, and I wouldn’t do such a thing. With more and more seasons passing, I’ve just learned to live with it.”

    There’s more common in us than I thought, realized the badgerwife. It seems… it seems the only thing that differs is that I have not learned to live with it… and I probably never would.

For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 22
Prologue || Previous chapter || Next chapter

I think I already mentioned how much I like writing about Lower Terramort? Betta loses her temper again, which happens quite often, considering her backstory, and a new character is introduced. Idunna is one of my many favourite characters, so I have to admit I don't give her as much attention as she deserves.


Redwall and canon characters @ Brian Jacques

Story and original characters @ me
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    “Hurr, get down! ‘Here ‘re beasts comin’ dis ‘ay!”

    At Rupet’s command Freedom and her companions fell flat, dragging Dibbuns with them.

    “Who are that beasts?” hissed Dom with irritation. After spending the rest of not-so-quiet night making her way through thickets and bushes, she was too tired to be afraid.

    The short mole stamped ground with his footpaw. “Dunno. But Oi feel them tramplin’, feel them wit’ moi diggin’ clauws!”

    Dom couldn’t feel the earth like moles, but she could hear muffled rustling of branches – an evidence of some beasts trying to move secretly. Brushwood and false dawn were hiding them from strangers’ eyes, but it also concealed the beasts from them.

    Bikkle crawled forward to peep from their hide-out, then let out a laugh of relief and got up. “That’s Waterhogs! Ho! How thee ‘hogs fare away from river?”

    The large group of woodlanders, about half of them hedgehogs, flinched at the Abess’s sudden appearance, some of them reached for weapons. But when they saw who greeted them, wary looks immediately were replaced with relaxed smiles. Big wide-shouldered hedgehog raised his forepaw, “Ho! How thee Abbess fares away from thy Abbey?”

    Two beasts shook paws. “Jokes aside, what brings you here, Hart?” asked Mother Abbess. “I don’t see your father – is he well?”

    Hart’s face was dim. “No. He… I’m Chieftain of Waterhogs nowt. I’d better tell everything as we walk to thy Redwall. We can not afford lose more time.”

    ***

    The vixen was awake, but she lay without motion, listening as the young mouse was fussing round. She heard clink of a bowl being set on table, then the mouse said, “Wake up.” She didn’t move, and he repeated, “Wake up. I know you are not asleep.” He got no answer. Finally, he gave up. “All right, play your games, vermin. There’s your medicine on the table – drink it yourself. The sooner you heal and get out of here is the better for us both.”

    Sound of steps dying out, then silence. The vixen waited for a while to make sure her jailer had gone, then opened her eyes. She was placed in a small room – a cubicle with curtained entrance. There were a window and a small table at the head of it; the bed across the cubicle was empty but unmade – another beast must have left recently.

    Bowl on the table was full with thick liquid. Ironically, but the mouse was right – she needed to heal if she wanted to escape. The vixen’s left leg was in splints, her right forepaw and all her chest was bandaged so tight she could hardly move. Indeed, trying to pick up her medicine became some kind of a challenge. Finally, the vixen managed to grip it with her left paw, but as she tried to pull it to herself the bowl fell out. Precious liquid spilled on the floor; the bowl, luckily, just clanked soundly.

    In a heartbeat, curtain flew open, and the mouse returned. “Dropping things, yeah? I knew that’ll happen, so I filled the bowl with simple broth, not medicine. It would’ve been easier if you didn’t tried to fool me, you stupid beast.” He picked up the bowl, quickly mixed some potion and neared the vixen. “If you try to attack me again, I’ll throw you out of the window,” he warned, his voice bearing bitter grudge.

    I won’t do that mistake again, thought the vixen looking at young mouse with dun brown fur and dark paws – looking at her husband’s murderer. Next time she would succeed. The soul of Kars would never rest in peace till she avenge him, and the vixen had already swore that one day she would kill that mouse.

    But all she could do right now was to hold back a growl as the mouse brought the bowl to her lips and held it for her to drink.

    “What’s your name?” he asked as she emptied the bowl. “Not that I care, but it will make talking easier. I’m Turfee.”

    The vixen considered it, and then decided her name wasn’t worth hiding. “Name’s Foxglove.”

    The mouse gave a smile. It angered the vixen. She didn’t like her corsair pals making fun of her name, and sure not a woodlander. “That’s fine name,” she couldn’t hide tension in her voice. “My mother was a healer. She called me after a medicine herb.”

    “I know it’s a herb. It’s just… amusing. A fox named Foxglove.”

    “It’s no worse than any other names, Dustpaws.”

    Turfee waved his paw. “Doesn’t matter. Now, don’t you even try to get out of bed. I’ve got no intention of changing your bandages before time.”

    “Who, me?” Foxglove was especially proud of offended notes in her voice. “I feel like a mountain collapsed atop me.” Actually, it was very close to the truth. “You think I can just get up an’ walk away?”

    The curtain was drawn off, and two beasts walked in – a small badger in green tunic and big graying otter Foxglove recognized as the one who restrained her earlier.

    “Good morning,” the badger’s eyes rested upon the vixen. “I’m glad to see you’re getting better.”

    “Foxglove, that’s Lord Grawn Woodsmith, ruler of Salamandastron,” declared Turfee. “You should thank him you’re treated by civilized beasts, not abandoned on the battlefield as your vermin friends usually do. And that’s Skipper of Redwall’s otters, who offered to keep an eye on you in case you try to do anything foolish. You do understand this?”

    The vixen gulped. Did they come to question me?

    But no, the badger smiled and took a step toward Foxglove’s bed, “Stop frightening your patients, Turfee.”

    “Careful,” growled Skipper. “She’s a wild one. Already attempted an attack on our healers.”

    “I- I was blinded with pain,” this excuse sounded lame, but she at least got to try and cleanse the memory of her stupid outrage. “I remember only pain… Such a sharp, splitting pain I wanted to bite my paws off…”

    The mouse and otter exchanged glances with unconcealed distrust in his eyes; even the badger frowned. They didn’t believe her – but she didn’t believe them either.

    “Hope it won’t happen again,” said the badger. “Anyway, I’ve come to check on you and say you are safe here in the Abbey. We aren’t going to torture or starve you. After you’re healed, you are free to go wherever you want to. We don’t carry war on wounded. We are not killers.”

    Foxglove couldn’t help giving a broad grin. She cracked them! No, Redwallers wouldn’t torture her; they chose another strategy. They’d be all nice and friendly to her, so she’s supposed to go soft-hearted (though soft-headed is better definition) and spill everything out! Well, let them play this game; it can be played by two.

    She bowed her head humbly. “Thankee, Lord.”

    “I’ll come and talk to you later,” concluded the badger, then both he and Turfee left the cubicle.

    Skipper slowly sat down the second bed in the room – it took Foxglove some time to see bandages under his green shirt and realize he was a patient as well. “Don’t even think about pulling off some foxy tricks. I’m watching you, vermin.”

    The vixen wanted to say something scornful, but decided not to anger her roommate. Clenching her teeth, she rolled over, her back to the otter. Thinking. Plotting.

    ***

    Simon made himself comfortable on a little stool, leaning against the wall as he waited for Turfee. The young otter let his gaze wander over Abbey Infirmary. It was overcrowded with wounded; most of them were Redwallers who suffered during Deathtrap’s attack; seven hares that survived an ambush set by vermin were there as well.

    Kvalla couldn’t stop fingering a bundled stump of her left ear. “Wot a woe, sah. Wot’s more miserable than an earless ‘are, wot?”

    Sister Vernal gently pulled harewife’s paw away. “Sorry, your ear was too badly damaged to be stitched. I had little choice but to cut it off to avoid infection. How did it happen to get torn in shreds, anyway?”

    Kvalla frowned at recollection. “Bloody arrow, wot. Pinned my ear to a tree, an’ vermin didn’t want to wait till I remove it carefully. So I just sprang away before they made a pincushion of me, wot wot!”

    Seeing hares reminded Simon of Mother Abbess and Dibbuns. Where are they? Does that ambush mean vermin got them? We shouldn’t have left them at Brockhall!

    Simon’s gaze shifted to Myrra, who came to visit the wounded Foremole Ruggum.

    “Ye zay ye’re from ovve the see?” asked Ruggum.

    “Yeah, from Stonehall. Ho urr, it was a wonderful place, all mauntains an’ ridges. Very liddle o’ real forest, but dere was a grove o’ stones dat stood loike trees. An’ caves with columns o’ quartz. An’ deep lakes, so clear dat ye could see ev’ry pebble at de bottum.” Myrra sighed. “An’ silver mines. We worked in dem an’ traided with passin’ ships. Then the weesel came – an’ we became slaives in ‘ur own mines.”

    Foremole gentle squeezed his new friend’s paw. “Oi didna mean to upset ye, burr.”

    Myrra sighed. “Oi knaw. Oi just thaught… mebbe one day, one day, when that vermint weesel bes gone, we can sail to Stonehall an’ set it free unce more.”

    “We will,” said Ruggum firmly. “Oi knaw we will.”

    Meanwhile, young otter stared at the curtain that separated Infirmary from a small nook where a captive vixen was treated. Turfee, Grawn and Old Skip went here quite a time ago. Simon began to tap the floor with his rudder impatiently when somebeast gave him a sharp poke in the side. He flinched from surprise and turned round. It was Fleggen, lying on the nearest bed, his gaze sullen.

    Simon slightly bent his head. “Sorry. I don’t let you sleep, do I?” The shrew nodded, and Simon went on, “Sorry again. You should have told me earlier.”

    Fleggen cast him another morose glare and made a cutting move across his bandaged throat with his paw. “Throat wound, can’t talk?” translated Simon. Another nod. “That’s a nasty thing. And what do healers say? When will you get better?”

    The shrew frowned even more and dug himself under blankets without making a sign. “Did I offend you?” inquired Simon. “But what did I say wrong? Why are you angry?”

    “Fleggen is not angry with you in particular,” called Sister Vernal from the next bed where she was changing Brandon’s bandages. “He is just angry. You see, the wound on his throat is too deep. His vocal cords are damaged.” Kind mouse sighed. “I’m sorry, but Fleggen will never be able to talk again.”

    “Oh.” Simon shook his head. Fleggen could have been the grumpiest and the most quarrelsome beast he knew, but the otter hadn’t wished him such a wound. He tried to keep pity away from his voice – he knew Fleggen wouldn’t want one. “Well, I guess it could’ve been worse.”

    “Simon? You’re still here?”

    The young otter turned to see Brother Turfee and Lord Grawn coming into main Infirmary room. “You said I can visit Triss,” he reminded.

    Turfee stopped to fill a bowl with a strong-smelling tincture. “Sure. Follow me.”

    The Abbey Warrior was staying in a dormitory not far from Infirmary, reclining on pillows and blankets. Simon could see her ears and whiskers were sagging, even if the squirrel smiled and waved her paw to visitors. “Hi Simon, hi Turfee! Umm, what are you carrying? You aren’t going to make me drink that nasty skilly again, are you, Turfee?”

    The mouse healer cast Triss a stern glance (sometimes Simon wondered where did he learn it – definitely not from Sister Vernal), “This ‘nasty skilly’ is saving your leg. You have to drink it.”

    Triss let out a feigned sigh. “How such a nice Dibbun could turn into such austere beast?”

    “Sometimes I think he likes tormenting his patients,” agreed Simon.

    “Fine,” sniffed Turfee. “Next time you’ll have a pleasure of stitching your own wounds.”

    Simon and Triss chuckled at the thought, but Triss’s laugh quickly grew into cough. Simon hurried to give his mentor a cup of warm mint tea and didn’t take his eyes off her while she sipped. “How do you feel, Triss?”

    “Not as good as I’d want to,” admitted the squirrel. “My chest hurts, and I can’t move my leg. But I’m much, much better that yesterday, thanks to Turfee and Vernal.” A small smile showed up on Turfee’s face. “I hope I’d be back on my footpaws in few days,” said Triss.

    “A broken bone can’t heal in few days,” softly said Turfee.

    Simon felt he couldn’t put off inevitable any more. “Triss, did… did you hear what happened in the woods?”

    “Yes. Churk told me when she visited.”

    The young otter looked down, unable to raise his eyes. “I’m… I’m sorry, so sorry. I’m not fit for the warrior, I know. I shouldn’t have left the Sword of Martin.”

    “Silly riverpup.” Nobeast called Simon ‘riverpup’ since he was a Dibbun, and his face burned with shame. However, there was a note of sorrow in Triss’s voice as she went on, “I’ll make no secret of it, I’m upset with what happened. But Simon, we all do mistakes. All of us. The only thing that matters is whether we can set thing right at the end. In your case, we can.”

    Simon understood. “The sword is still in the stream. We can go back and retrieve it.”

    “Yes, and that’s what we’ll do after things clear up a bit.” Triss forced a smile, then frowned again. “As you see, you still can set things right. I can’t.”

    ”What do you mean?” said the Warrior apprentice. “You’ve never did such stupid stuff.”

    “May be I haven’t. But I’ll never forget how Shogg died protecting me.”

    Simon frowned. He had very vague memories of the otter, but he knew his story well. “Shogg was killed by snakes,” he said softly. “It wasn’t your fault, Triss.”

    “May be it wasn’t. But there were times when I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking: if I hadn’t fall down… if I hadn’t dropped the sword… if I had got up faster… Shogg would’ve been alive.” Triss’s head was bowed down now. “It took time to realize snakes were the only ones to blame. But even now, I would sometime think – if only…”

    The squirrel warrior patted Simon’s paw, her voice bracing. “What I wanted to say is that you have no reason to fret. We still can set things right.”

    Simon stayed with Triss for a while, then left her room, deep in thoughts, his paw touching Deyna’s locket – a gesture that made him feel closer to his famed ancestor. Triss was right. He will set things right.

    ***

    Freedom, together with Abbess Bikkle and Chieftain Hart, looked at red-stone walls of the Abbey.

    “I can see beasts on the walltops,” said Maple. “It’s – yes, it’s hares, I see their long ears.”

    “Hares in Redwall?” muttered Bukkle. “The Long Patrol must have come to the Abbey. Anyway, we need to get inside.” The squirrelmaid took a deep breath before shouting, “Redwaaall! It’s Bikkle with friends out here! Open the gates!”

    In less than five minutes, mixed group of Waterhogs and woodlanders was inside the Abbey’s walls.

    Christoff Bigbow at your service, mar’m,” bowed the hare that opened small eastern gates for them. “Glad you turned up, sah. We’ve been looking for you yesterday, wot.”

    “I’m also glad we turned up,” smiled the Abbess. “Did Lord Sagaxus send you?”

    By that time, a large group of Abbeydwellers flocked to welcome them. Dibbuns dashed to their families and friends, Mother Abbess got surrounded by both Redwallers and hares of the Long Patrol, and even Waterhogs and woodlanders turned out to have friends in the Abbey. Freedom, Maple and Claypaw family stood aside, couldn’t help feeling a little aloof.

    Then Maple gasped, his eyes set on a group of squirrels. “Dad!” he cried and ran into paws of a squirrel in red headband. His father laughed, hugged Maple, then picked him up and whirled. Dom could hear their voices, “You are here! I knew you’re alive, but you’re here, Maple!”

    “Hey, an’ where’s your ear, Dad? Hey, Elm, Yew, Larch, you’re all here!”

    Freedom smiled at her friend’s happiness, though she felt a pang of distress: but after all, she couldn’t have expected to see Kroova and Sleeve here.

    As she thought of it, Maple ran back to her and grabbed her paw, “Dom, this is Broom, my father. Dad, that’s Freedom, she is my best friend, no, she is like a sister to me. I wouldn’t have made it here without her.”

    “Well, I wouldn’t have made here without you to begin with…” Dom tried to argue, but Broom simply hugged her tight, like he hugged his son.

    “I guess I can call you my daughter now, Freedom,” he said.

    ***

    Simon was leaving the main Abbey building when he heard sound of joyful voices and cheers and picked up his pace to greet the Abbess and her companions. However, he had to stop as Ripple ran into him at full speed.

    “Saii-mon!” she cheeped. “I missed ye! Where were ye?”

    Feeling a sense of relief washing over his fur, Simon picked his sister up and swirled round – Ripple’s favorite amusement.

    “Are you fine, lil’ Rippie? Weren’t you hurt?” he asked with concern.

    “Bad beasties put me in a sack!” the otterbabe complained. “Dom an’ Maple saved us! Come, you’d meet them!”

    Smiling, Simon let Ripple lead him to where Broom and several other squirrels were talking to a couple of young beasts, a squirrel and a mousemaid.

    “We owe you so much for helping our Dibbuns,” he said after Ripple proudly gave their names. “I don’t know how to thank you two!’

    “Think nothing of it,” shrugged Maple. “Any other goodbeast would’ve done the same.”

    “But I could do with a breakfast,” added Dom, giving Maple a friendly push. “Can we?”

    “Sure,” said Simon. “It’s the least our Abbey can do for you. What would you like to eat?”

    “And what do you have here?” carefully inquired Maple.

    Broom patted his shoulder, “When it comes to kitchens of Redwall, you’ll learn they have everything.”

    “Hotroot soup, please?” blurted out Freedom. “I haven’t eaten it for ages!”

    “Me, too!” Maple supported his friend.

    Simon could only shake his head. “And I thought only otters like hotroot soup. The rest of Abbeydwellers say it’s too spicy for them.”

    “Wait till you hear of my parents!” smiled Dom and gave him a wink. “I’m part otter myself!”

    “And you, Maple?” asked Broom, suppressing a chuckle. “Had you become an otter when I wasn’t near?”

    “No,” was an honest reply. “I’m just hungry so much that I can eat anything.”

    Simon was about to invite them to the dining hall when he heard a sound of hurried footsteps and an unfamiliar voice, “Hey there, matey!” He turned round to see a strange ottermaid skidding to a halt as she neared him. “Surry to cut in like that, but I’d like to see Skipper of otters!”

    Simon glanced over the crowd, but couldn’t find his father here. “I saw Rumbol go to the main building,” said Broom. “Show the way to our guest, Simon; I’ll take care of the breakfast.”

    The young otter motioned the maiden to follow him. Now Simon was sure he had never seen this ottermaid before. The stranger was his height and age; she wore blue dress and headscarf that shaded in her dark grey fur. A tailring and two bracelets upon her left wrist gave a faint jingle as she walked.

    “I don’t think we’ve met before,” he said. “My name’s Simon.”

    “Oh!” The maiden’s paw went to her mouth. “I didn’t want you to think I was born in a cave, really! I’m Moska Waterdog, daughter of Thaer and Janis Waterdogs. Our family travels with the tribe of Waterhogs.” Her pawshake was firm and strong.

    “And why are you looking for Dad – I mean, Skipper?”

    “I just wanted to ask when we’re going to strike back,” admitted Moska. “And volunteer to participate in the attack. Or to enter sentry patrols. You know, to do at least something after… after what those scumbags did to Waterhogs.”

    Simon nodded – he knew how it felt to be unable to help the ones dear to you. “Yea, though I’m afraid there won’t be a reply attack till we restore our forces. There are too many wounded in the Infirmary.”

    “Hadn’t fresh forces of woodlanders and Waterhogs just arrived here? Besides, vermin surely don’t expect us to recover so soon.”

    “That sounds like a good idea,” agreed Simon. “It’s up to Abbeyleaders to decide, but we can suggest…”

    Deep into conversation, two young otters entered the Abbey’s main building.

    ***

    Three corsairs strolled through Mossflower Woods. They were foragers, and two of them bended from weight of sacks with fresh fruits and vegetables. All their attention was on their third companion, who carefully carried a basket full of bird eggs.

    “Ye’re a lucky sly-boots, spotting a nest so high on dat tree!”

    “Yeah,” the lucky rat in question bit one of the eggs and sucked it dry. “Next time I’ll get a broody hen a’ well!”

    Krrreee-gaaah!” A black lightning struck down, and a hunter turned a prey: the rat hadn’t even uttered a squeak when Truvo Blackhawk sank his claws in his back and dragged him into the skies. Two remaining corsairs staggered back in shock, then grabbed their bows.  But it was too late. Truvo tightened his grip, breaking the victim’s neck, dropped now harmless rat and shot upwards to avoid arrows.

    One hawk couldn’t battle a whole army of vermin – Truvo knew it. Nevertheless, he had already begun his war. He would strike and disappear, and vermin would pay for sufferings of the all birdkind.

For Freedom. Book 2: Shadows Fall. Chapter 21
Prologue || Previous chapter || Next chapter

I know it was so long since I last uploaded a new chapter for ‘For Freedom’, but I don’t really have anything to say besides ‘life happens’. So, it’s pretty much a happy reunion chapter, with added value of Foxglove being grumpy (I truly love to write her episodes for that snarky outlook of hers!) and Truvo being vicious.


Redwall and canon characters @ Brian Jacques

Story and original characters @ me
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So, I saw Voltaic-Soda do this meme literally ages ago, and now I finally put together my own. And I also invite everyone interested to have fun with it (even though it turned out to be Valentine's Day themed for reasons unknown to me).

RULES:

- Pick 10 of your OCs in any order.

- Don't look at the numbers in the questions while picking the characters!

- Link back to the blank.

- Have fun!


PICK YOUR LOVERS (or haters)!

1. Zandal Xianglong 
Zandal Xianglong by AstarGoldenwing

2. Frozen Stone
Frozen Stone by AstarGoldenwing
3. Enigma
Enigma by AstarGoldenwing
4. Sarah Avilary
Sarali Avilary by AstarGoldenwing
5. Erinye
Erinye Anthro by AstarGoldenwing
6. Aaron Bière
Aaron Biere by AstarGoldenwing
7. Phobos
Phobos Anthro by AstarGoldenwing
8. Deimos
Deimos Feral by AstarGoldenwing
9. Catherine Amberville
Catherine Amberville by AstarGoldenwing
10. Spicy Lily
Spicy Lily by AstarGoldenwing


1. So, [8], what do you think about Valentine's Day?

Deimos: It’s that human holiday, right? Useless thing, if you ask me, though I don’t really care. It’s not a Shadolve custom, so it doesn’t matter.

2. Believe it or not, but [3] was convinced to go to a blind date. Turned out his/her partner is [6]. How would the date go?

Enigma and Aaron? Gosh, that would be so awkward. Aaron is slightly creeped out by Enigma because his mind has difficulty processing the existence of winged cat/horse/lizard/bear creatures, and Enigma knows this and tries not to put too much pressure on him.

3. Later [3] and [6] found out that [5] was the one who picked them for the blind date...

Heh, Erinye would be the last person to arrange a blind date for someone. Does she even know Enigma and Aaron? They are both associated with Phobos, and she doesn't speak with her brother. However, she could've done this just for laughs.

4. Ding ding, [1] received an anonymous fan letter! What does it say?

Zandal: Hmm, it says that I'm an amazing fighter and that they wish to be as good as I am one day. *pauses* Actually, the idea of having fans is a bit disturbing. I know I'm far from perfect, and I most certainly wish that no one would do anything dangerous trying to imitate me.

5. [7] caught [2] and a crocodile in fancy hat went to a movie together. How romantic!

Eh, Phobos and Frozen Stone are probably two most serious characters from the group, so I can't even imagine how they ended in this situation. It could be a result of a bet, but neither of them would bet on anything – Phobos doesn't take any uncalculated risks, and Frozen Stone finds bets too non-mathematical.

6. Ehem, [9], can you please describe your ideal partner/dream date, no matter how weird it might sounds?

Catherine: Well, that person should be kind and caring and attentive, and really respect me. You know, I want to be with someone who would actually listen to me and to whom my opinion would matter. Him also being strong, tall and handsome is preferable, but honestly, I would take kind heart and sharp mind over beauty any time.

7. I see, I see... And what does [10] think about [9]'s description?

Spicy Lily: Purrfect. Smart is sexy. But you forgot to mention that he should also have soft fluffy mane and smell of pine needles.

8. [4] is dared to kiss someone in this meme, who would he/she choose? (The creator of this meme is nice so it doesn’t have to be a kiss on the lips, unless you want to.)

Sarah: *smooches Zandal* Love you, darling.

9. [6] and [8] are fighting for [5]. How come?

Ehm, Deimos is Erinye’s brother, so him fighting over her would be weird at best. However, he is very protective over his family, and if he thought that Aaron threatened his sister in any way he would fight for her. And since Erinye is a rogue agent and Aaron works for the government, it’s not impossible for their interests to clash. So that seems like the most probable scenario. ;)

10. Oh noes! [2] was kidnapped by heavy-armed evil hamsters and was taken to a castle to become king hamster’s new sweetheart! Anyone want to make a rescue team?

Spicy Lily doesn’t need a team to rescue her mate, she would do it herself. Seriously, Spicy Lily is very sweet and playful person, but touch Frozen Stone and she would decimate you. Also, don’t forget that she has five older siblings.

11. Would [10] receive any chocolate or gift on Valentine’s Day? Anything from someone in the meme?

I think that Spicy Lily would wake up to a bunch of freshly-killed rabbits from Frozen Stone, as rabbit is her favourite. And not just on Valentine’s Day, too, as Frozen Stone just loves to spoil his mate.

12. [3] randomly walks in and sees [7] sitting on [1] and they're both on a bed.

Enigma: ...Dad?

Phobos: Never mind us, your father had the stupidity to bet that I wouldn't beat him in wrestling. Say it again, Zandal? *wrenches Zandal's arm*

Zandal: How did you do that? I'm stronger!

Phobos: It's called sambo, dude.

13. [4] and [5] is giving [6] some pieces of love advice. What're they?

Sarah is actually nice enough to give Aaron some advice, though it can become awkward since Aaron has a crush on Sarah that she may or may not know about. But Erinye giving love advice would be disastrous.

Sarah: You don’t need to confess your feeling off the bat, Aaron, that may make another person uncomfortable. Instead, show your appreciation with small gestures like helping them out, giving gifts, saying compliments. Who knows, even if they don’t feel the same they can change their mind later, but don’t be too pushy.

Erinye: You wanna win someone’s heart? Find out who their enemy is and kill them.

14. A wild hobo appears! He gives [9] a flower!

Catherine: Erm, thanks? *takes the flower while keeping her other hand on pepper spray can, then carefully scoots away*

15. [8] received a mysterious gift box from [2]. What's inside it?

Again, do Frozen Stone and Deimos even know each other? But if Frozen Stone were to send Deimos any kind of gift, he would send some books or research material, and Deimos would get very annoyed because he doesn't like getting supposedly needless information stuffed in his head.

16. So, [7], have you ever played half-naked Twister? Do you want to?

Phobos: Technically, I'm always half-naked – or at least as naked as a creature covered in fur can be. As for playing Twister... No. Just no. That sounds way to embarrassing, and I'm not going to lose my dignity.

17. [1] and [3], please each pick a song that describe your state of mind on Valentine's Day.

Zandal: I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day. There shouldn’t be a specific reason to show your partner your appreciation, so every day should be a Valentine’s Day.

Enigma: I’m not romantically involved right now, but I find Valentine’s Day to be rather entertaining. It’s always amusing to watch other people on a day like this.

18. Cool. And what do they think about the other person's song?

They both respect each other's choices – Enigma understands and appreciates Zandal's serious attitude, and while Zandal secretly hopes for grandkids he wants Enigma to be happy above anything else.

19. King hamster's castle was conquered, and [10] was in charge of re-decorate it for a Valentines event (don't care about money). How is the castle look like after the re-decorating?

If Spicy Lily is in charge, then there will be flowers anywhere. And colorful bird feathers, and seashells, and ferns and bracken leaves. And if she could get her paws on them, spoons and forks, because Spicy Lily has a rather strange fashion sense.

20. Everyone in this meme is invited to a fantastic ball in the castle. Describe it a bit and/or tag someone to end the meme!

Zandal: Do we really have to go?

Sarah: Come on, it will be fun!

Zandal: Okay, but I'm not dressing up for it.


Erinye: Stupid ball... You can't expect me to go.

Deimos: Hey, Eri, we could paint bones on your fur, like a skeleton, so that you could go around scaring people!

Erinye: Yeeas, let's do it!


Frozen Stone: This place does look very lovely, Lily.

Spicy Lily: Oh, you won't believe the fancy stuff I found in the treasure room! Come, I'll show you!


Enigma: You are perfectly sure you are alright with it?

Aaron: As sure as I can even be now... Though I'm pretty nervous. There will be a lot of strange people.

Enigma: Just think of it as a costumed party. You have those on your planet, right? Like that one, Hallows’ Eve?

Aaron: I never exactly liked them...

Enigma: Then think of it as an undercover mission...


Phobos: *bows* Will you do me the honor of accompanying me?

Catherine: It will be a pleasure, fair gentleman.

Comments


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:iconzaphkiellane:
Zaphkiellane Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Hope you have a happy birthday
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:iconastargoldenwing:
AstarGoldenwing Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Thanks a lot! I really did! :)
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:iconwildfire-tama:
Wildfire-Tama Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Happy birthday!!! :D :hug:
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:iconastargoldenwing:
AstarGoldenwing Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Thank you, Tama! Hug 
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:iconaspenwinterhorn:
AspenWinterhorn Featured By Owner Edited Sep 8, 2018  Student Traditional Artist
Happy birthday, Astar! Party  
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:iconastargoldenwing:
AstarGoldenwing Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Thank you very much!
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:iconkelaiah:
Kelaiah Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Happy Birthday! Me and My Birthday Cake Happy DeviantART Birthday :happy birthday: Birthday Sis Furry Birthday Hello :balloon: 
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:iconastargoldenwing:
AstarGoldenwing Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2018
Aww, thanks a lot! :hug: 
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:iconkelaiah:
Kelaiah Featured By Owner Sep 9, 2018
You're welcome! :iconfurryhuggleplz: Hoe you had a great one. :aww:
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:iconduchesseofdusk:
DuchesseOfDusk Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Hey, I saw that you have some literature in your gallery. So if you're looking feedback on it, you might want to check out my group :iconreadthine-readmine:
There we exchange literature critiques on a regular basis.
You find the rules here: The Rules - English
If you have any questions, just ask me or send a note to the group :) (Smile)
And if you're not interested, that's also perfectly fine :) (Smile)
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