Note: This is a Redwall fan fiction. It is an unfinished story, which means I will be adding on to it often, hopefully every day.
Jackleap Strongfoot had been sent to the armoury of Salamandastron again. Usually quiet and meek, he was furious now, alone in the armoury. Angrily the chocolate-brown hare polished pikes and swords, muttering under his breath.
“Huh, some captain, wot! Sentencin' a chap to the armoury twice in a fortnight? No bally imagination has ol' Captain Quincepaw, wot wot, bloomin' cad!”
“Bloomin' cad y'self, Jacki! C'mon, laddie buck, straighten up, eyes front, chin up, stiff upper lip an' all that, wot wot!” rang out a cheerful voice behind him.
Jacki whirled around and saw the Hon. Tess Thistleflower Blackberry Thropple, who had come to get a foil for her fencing lessons. Jacki curled his lip scornfully.
“Wot, stiff upper lip? From you, Tess? Why, just t'other day I saw you sittin' behind the oven blubbin' yore eyes out 'cause your cakes burned, wot! Stiff upper lip y'self, blubberpaws!”
Tess was stung into retaliation. “Yah, well, at least I'm not as ugly as you, with that big bird's nest between your ears! Turbanhead!”
Jacki was cut to the quick at this, for his turban of red and gold was his pride and joy, and he wore it everywhere. He never took it off, even in his bunk. But little did Tess know, he had a reason.
“Turbanhead, hah, that all you can do, dribblesnout?”
“No it isn't, droopyears!”
The insults might have come to blows, had not Captain Quincepaw's timely intervention put a stop to the quarrelling. The seasoned hare, known to his friends as Quincey, was coming to check on his fencing student in the armoury. Hearing the angry voices, he flung open the door to reveal the two miscreants with foils in paw, ready to fight, suddenly frozen at the unexpected arrival.
“H'i say, Tess, that's why h'it takes you so long t'get a foil! H'and you, Jacki, H'i thought H'i told you to polish the weapons, not fight with 'em! Tell y'what, just h'as soon as y'both are finished polishin' h'every bit o' weapons an' h'armour in the place, ye can both 'ave a h'audience with th' great badger 'imself, Lord Ironpaw, for disobeyin' h'a Captain an' fightin' with h'each other, wot wot!”
“See, that's what y'get when y'start insultin' me. An' I have to miss fencin' class now, too!”, said Tess disparagingly when he had gone.
“Oh no, you started it!”, snapped Jacki back.
“Silence in the h'armoury there!” roared Captain Quincepaw from outside.
And there was.
Lord Ironpaw was sitting at his window looking out to sea when he heard a knock at his door.
“Come in,”, he grunted, and Captain Quincepaw strode in.
“Ah, Quincey, what is it now? A pie fight in the mess?”, Ironpaw inquired.
“No sah, h'it's that Jacki h'again. First 'e refused ta h'appear at Long Patrol training, so H'i set 'im ta polishin' in the h'armoury. But 'e jus' can't keep h'outa trouble, Sire, not h'even there. 'E started h'insultin' an' fightin' young
Tess, so H'i sent both h'of 'em ta you, sah, jus' h'as soon h'as they're finished polishin'. H'i jus' don't know what ta do with those two, sah!”
Lord Ironpaw answered strangely, “I do.”
Before Quincepaw could ask what he meant, there came footsteps up the stairs, then a knock at the door.
“Come h'in, an' no tricks now! You're h'in the presence h'of the Badger Lord o' Salamandastron!”, called out Quincepaw.
The two culprits of the morning shuffled in, looking guilty and staring down at their footpaws.
“Well, what do you have to say for yourselves?” asked Ironpaw, not unkindly.
“We're sorry. It won't happen again.”, murmured Jacki and Tess uncomfortably.
“I'll say it won't happen again!”, roared Ironpaw suddenly. “It won't happen again because you won't be here to make it happen! I'm afraid you've misbehaved one too many times. I'll have to send you away!”
The three hares in the room were shocked.
“H'i say, that's h'a bit 'arsh, h'isn't it, Sire?”, whispered Quincepaw.
“Yes, I have chosen you two for a very important mission. You will go to Redwall Abbey and protect it from invading armies!”, finished Ironpaw.
At this sentence the atmosphere in the little room changed from dejection to elatedness. The two leverets smiled from eartip to eartip, which is quite a lot to say about a hare.
“Well, what are you waiting for?”, laughed Ironpaw. “Hurry up and get packing!”
The two happy hares rushed off, with the voice of Ironpaw ringing in their ears. “Oh, and don't forget to bring horses, you've got a long journey ahead of you!”
Jacki grabbed his pack and rushed out the main gate of Salamandastron. Being clad in a loose red travelling shirt with gold trimming, his top matched perfectly with his gold pants and the newly washed crimson-gold silk turban between his chocolate-brown ears. The sword and scabbard on his belt, along with the sling and pouch of stones, completed the look of a casual, roguish warrior. However, his eyes betrayed his other side, for they always seemed to have a hunted, frightened look about them.
Jacki dashed over to the stables, snatching a saddle on the way
“Wakey wakey, Diamondback! We've got a bally long march ahead of us, wot wot!” he called when he arrived.
In the end stall there arose a pretty wild bay mare, with a badger face and a strange dorsal stripe. Instead of being a straight dark line down her back, it was curiously curved, forming a diamond pattern down her back, from which she got her name.
“All right already, Jacki, I'm up!” she snorted, whisking a few wisps of straw off her black tail.
At the other end of the long stable building, Tess saddled up her steed Candlesmoke. She, not holding with frills and furbelows, had selected a light, comfortable, purple travelling dress with the slightest hint of pink lace at the ends of the short sleeves, skirt, and collar. A pink cord with a sun charm about her neck completed her modestly pretty look, although her javelin, wild, mischievous eyes, and fur blowing in a mild zephyr almost ruined the effect.
Candlesmoke was a smokey grey stallion and was very enduring, used to hard rides. He was also very jolly and cheerful, and usually managed to cheer anybody up with his jokes and manner.
“So, where are we going again?”, he asked cheerily.
“Redwall,” she answered, “to protect it from invadin' armies, says Lord Ironpaw. But how does he bally well know that Redwall's being invaded? We would look ridiculous if we arrived in full bloomin' battle gear at Redwall, only to be met with, 'Oh, hello, what are you doin' here? Invadin' armies? No, we haven't had any invadin' armies in a long time.'”
“Trust the Lord, Tess,” Candle replied. “He'll know from someplace or other.”
“Well, we'd better be jolly well off,” Tess said, seeing Jacki at the other end of the stables. “Ol' Jacki turbanhead is finished.”
“And that's another thing,” added Candle and they trotted out the stable door. “If we're going to be travelling with Jacki and Dia, I don't want to hear insults and bad grace all the time. At least try to be nice.”
“Hah, try telling Jackboy that. Jus' tryin' doesn't blinkin' well make much difference,” Tess muttered under her breath as the two hares on horseback joined each other, riding not too close together.
The warriors had begun their journey.
Zanog Gonza laughed insanely, marching at the head of his army. He swung his standard and weapon, two sticks of hard wood, with round balls of bone at the ends of both, usually crossed into an X, but now swinging loose in Zanog's paws. Zanog smashed the bones against each other, making a hollow clacking sound. Roaring out his war cry, he broke into a fast lope, followed by his horde. “Zaaanoooog Gooonzaaaa! Kill kill kiiiill! On to Redwaaaall!”
Zanog was a sable. His hide was entirely black, usually sleek and groomed, but now ruffled and covered with dust from the forced march. His eyes, however, were shining orbs of orange, seeming to scorch the dust away with their burning gaze. Zanog had been a simple hordebeast once, but he had fought his way up in the ranks until challenging and slaying the former leader and becoming Zanog Gonza, the Fiery Sable. Hearing of Redwall from the slave driver Miggu, he had set his sights on the abbey and, by either flattering or threatening, had got the horde captains on his side. Convincing the horde that there would be plenty of plunder for all if they conquered Redwall, he was soon marching across the flatlands from Southsward. Soon they would be there, only another week or two of marching at this pace, maybe more if they slowed down. It didn't matter much. That Zanog would get to Redwall was all that mattered. And Zanog would get there.
Trailing behind the horde came the slaves; wretched creatures from Southsward and other places along the way, guarded by the ferret slave driver Miggu. Laughing hoarsely, he cracked his brown, red-striped whip as the horde sped up, forcing the slaves to break into a stumbling trot. There was one who did not, though. The tall cat straightened up from his stooped position, pulling the other slaves up short as their chain tightened. He glared at the dark-masked ferret out of his one blue eye, the other covered by a black eyepatch.
“Harr, 'urry up an' git movin', or else I'll have ta give ya a taste o' this 'ere whip!” Miggu growled, baring his teeth and waving the whip in the Siamese's face.
The cat did not even flinch. Snarling and extending his claws, he sprang on the sandy-coloured ferret, yanking the other slaves along with him. Hissing and yelping, the two fighting animals fell with a thud to the ground, where the cat managed to wrest the slaver's whip away from him. Snapping it in two, he was about to leap back on the squealing ferret when two pairs of paws gripped him from behind. A weasel and a stoat wrestled the feline away from the badly beaten ferret, shoving him back into the slave line. Slipping the two halves of the whip under the worn rope that served him as a belt, the Siamese was forced to march on.
Hissing under his breath, the skinny cat whispered, “Don't forget what I can do, ferret. My name is Riguel, and I will not forget you.”
The artist: SaynaSLuke
Meanwhile, the two hares from Salamandastron and their horses were pondering a riddle that the Badger Lord had given them. As Jacki read it out for the hundredth time, Dia snorted. “I don't think reading it out again will make much difference.”
“Well, we can always try”, answered Tess, motioning for Jacki to continue.
“Watch for the one with the head of a stag
And the bird's nest of scarlet and gold.
He is the one with the three-footed nag
When the other hoof knocks foebeasts cold.
Watch for the one with the rain on her ears,
But the sunlight in pelage and look.
She is the one with the steed of good cheer.
She's the grandchild of Maudie, the cook.
Oh, emeralds and sunshine and hypnotist snake
And he of the burning brown eyes;
To conquer the fire-sable, heroes to make,
They must band with the one eye of skies.”
“Well, I think that the one with bird's nest of scarlet and gold must be you, Jacki”, Tess pointed to the place on the paper with a quiet snicker. “But what's this about the head of a stag?”
Jacki started, but quickly recovered. “I ... I don't know”, he said quietly. Diamond could tell he was lying, but she decided not to show it.
“The three-footed nag must be me, I guess”, she remarked. “I'm pretty good at aiming and kicking with my back hooves. But I don't know who this one is, with the rain on her ears. And what does pelage mean?”
“That would be me”, Tess answered her question. “Look.” She showed her ears, and the others suddenly saw some strange silver spots on them, things they had not noticed before. “And I think pelage means fur. I do have golden fur and eyes. And I'm also related to Maudie Mugsberry Thropple. She was the Colonel Cook and Boxing Champion at Salamandastron once. Although I'm not exactly her grandchild”, she added, pointing to the words 'Maudie the cook.'
“And I'm the steed of good cheer!” snorted Candlesmoke suddenly.
“Yes, I think we could have figured that out on our own”, said Diamondback.
“And these things here, emeralds and sunshine,” said Jacki, “I think they refer to our eyes. I have green and you have gold, like emeralds and sunshine.”
“And I'm the hypnotist snake,” added Dia. “Have you noticed my eyes? They're not exactly horselike, are they?”
The three others around the campfire saw that Diamondback's eyes were indeed 'not exactly horselike'. They were round, not almond-shaped, and they had slit pupils, like a cat's. Or a snake's.
“'And he of the burning brown eyes'”, quoted Candle. “That's me! I've got reddish-brown eyes.”
“But what on earth is the fire-sable?” asked Jacki.
“And the one eye of skies who we're supposed to band with to defeat him,” added Tess. “Well, I guess we'll find out soon. Let's move on.”
The embers of their fire were soon extinguished by the drops of rain which were beginning to fall.
Zanog's horde had set up camp for the night. Even though Zanog urged them to keep marching through the night, he could see that the horde needed rest. The creatures were worn out by the forced march, and some of them had wives and children.
Zanog would have only brush-tailed beasts in his horde, which mainly meant: no rats. Nobeast but Zanog knew why this was, but the fact stood: no rats. Any rats that the horde encountered were chained to the slave line, along with any other creatures that dared to defy Zanog.
So had the Siamese, Riguel, been captured. Zanog had flattered him with promises of food and plunder if he joined to horde, but when he had refused, Zanog had ordered him to be taken. That was how he had lost his eye, fighting the vermin. And now, here he was. A simple, abject slave. Hopeless.
But, no. Here he was, chained to a large rock by one leg as a punishment for his attacking Miggu earlier in the day, letting the rain cool his fresh, stinging willow-lash wounds. Wet and bedraggled, yes, and wounded, but not hopeless. No. Never.
The foolish vermin had forgotten to search him. They had never found Miggu's whip. And now, late in the night, he was ready.
Slowly twisting his head, he looked around for the sentries. All asleep, tired from the march. Good. The cat quietly removed the whip from his belt, slowly slipping the unbroken end through the last link of the chain. The proud, foolish ferret had attached a small metal spike to the end of his whip, in way of decoration. This the cat now used as a file, rubbing away at the link. The rough spike was worn away by the time Riguel had finished, but so was the chain. The cat, with a sudden burst of strength, yanked on his end of the chain and snapped it. The chain clanked, and Riguel stopped, listening. All clear. He slowly stood up, then sat back down with a thump. He hadn't realized that the ball and chain on his left wrist would be so heavy. Taking it in his paw, he gradually stood up again, taking care that the whip was tucked firmly in his belt. Careful not to rustle the chain, Riguel slowly slipped off northwards, sodden and limping, but free.
That night, the four creatures from Salamandastron camped near a bend in the river they were following. The had made good time in the past few days, and were now only a few weeks from Redwall. As Jacki struck flint to his sword Poisonblade for a fire, Tess fetched some fresh water in their canteens from the river, grumbling as she went.
“An' I have to bally well fetch the water, as usual,” she muttered under her breath. “That Jacki's been gettin' too jolly big for 'is britches lately.”
Just then she heard an whisper. “Tess, come quick!” It was Jacki. Tess, hearing the urgency in his voice, wisely kept silent as she crept back into camp.
“Over there,” Jacki breathed into her silver-spotted ear. “Look.” The bushes were rustling, as if somebeast were approaching behind them. Ready to spring into action, the two hares gripped their weapons, Jacki his sword Poisonblade and Tess a few rocks and a sling.
Suddenly, the bushes parted, and a tall, cream-coloured cat with chocolate-brown muzzle, legs and tail came stumbling into camp. He was clad only in a ragged loincloth tied round his waist with a worn rope, and looked very worn out and tired. He was scarred by many whiplashes and had a broken chain fastened to his right leg. In his belt were stuck the two halves of a brown, red-striped whip, and he was staggering from the weight of the heavy-looking ball and chain on his left wrist. Collapsing beside the fire, the undernourished Siamese managed to whisper, “Water ...”
Jacki turned to the canteens, but Tess put a paw on his arm. “Jacki, he's a cat! For all we know, there might be an entire army of vermin waiting on his signal!”
Jacki surveyed the cat panting for breath on the ground, from his black eyepatch next to one blue eye to his scarred ribs jutting out from beneath his fur. “I think not.”
“Fine then!” Tess snapped. “See if I care when you get killed by vermin!” She stormed off towards the stream, casting a wary glance at the prostrate feline as she went.
“Here,” Jacki offered the cat a canteen, which he took gratefully. “Don't mind Tess, she's like that sometimes.”
Some time later the five creatures were seated around a roaring fire. Tess had relented after discovering no vermin army surrounding the camp, and had consented to cook dinner for them.
After the cat had finished devouring the delicious Thropplecakes of Tess, a specialty invented by her ancestor Maudie Thropple, he related his tale. “And I swear to you, by my claws, I will break him as I broke his whip!” he finished. And, seeing the look in his blue eye, nobeast there disbelieved him.
The King of the Southwest Mossflower Dray, a group of squirrels in a detached part of Mossflower Woods, was Oakfire, a red squirrel. His wife was a grey squirrel, Appleblossom, and their sons were each strangely marked. Seatail Firepaw, the eldest, was a grey squirrel, but his left paw was a dark red. Firetail Seapaw's fur was a bright red, like his father's, but his left paw, too, was marked grey.
Firetail was worried about his brother. He had always been more of a rash, impetuous type, but now he had become pensive and sober. At this moment Firetail was sitting on a branch, watching Seatail sitting under the elm. The woods at this time of day were so silent that Firetail could hear his brother's breath from high up in the elm he was in.
He shrugged. Better leave him alone, he thought. He'll come around soon. Swinging through the treetops, Firetail swiftly slipped off to the Great Oak, the King's hollow dray.
The change in Seatail had come gradually, he had slowly become more thoughtful and silent. He had not been happy here since he had heard of the horde. Talking with a bird one day, she had told him of the army of Zanog Gonza.
Seatail had always been restless. The quiet life in the Mossflower glade wasn't exciting enough. He wanted adventure. He would get that in this army, he decided. But when could he go? Always he was being watch. He was the prince, the king's heir! Even now, his brother was watching him. Fool! Seatail sneered innerly. Thinking I don't know he's there! He had never liked his brother.
But now he swung away through the trees, and Seatail was alone.
Now was his chance. Taking up his javelin, Seatail slipped away under the cover of the setting sun, bound for the southwest.
Seatail was no longer a woodlander.
He was a villain!
Miggu had been beaten and chained to the slave line for letting Riguel escape, but he knew that Zanog had been lenient with him. He had seen creatures slain for far less.
The fact was, Zanog was a bit preoccupied. He now needed a new slave guard. He had looked around the army, but none of the vermin there had been ruthless enough. Then the squirrel arrived.
Of course, he was captured and taken to Zanog's tent, but Zanog was soon convinced that here was the slaver he needed. Ruthless, grim, and quick-witted.
Apparently, the squirrel had lived with his tribe, but he had become discontented with the simple, peaceful life and set off to the southwest, where he saw Zanog's horde. He actually wanted to join them!
Zanog pondered for a while on letting a squirrel join, but came to his decision quickly. “You may join us, if you tell us where this tribe of yours is. I would like to pay them a little ... visit.”
“Northeast for a few days, in the north end of a detached section of Mossflower,” Seatail answered.
“Oh, and what's your name, squirrel?” asked Zanog before he left.
“Bloodpaw,” Seatail lied with a straight face and held up his red-stained left paw as he was escorted off to the slaves by Frogtail and Blackear, Zanog's cronies.
They soon arrived at the squirrels' dray. Seatail-turned-Bloodpaw had fashioned a long whip out of his javelin and painted it with yellow stripes, like a stinging bee. Being called to the Sable's tent, he swaggered in and made an exaggerated bow.
“Yes, yer great Fi'ryness?” he said, temporarily adopting a vermin accent.
“Tell me about this tribe of yours.” said Zanog, in his usual flawless dialect. “Who are the leaders? Where would they be?”
“Leaders? Ah, y'must mean da King 'n' Queen, Oakfir' an' Appl'bloss'm. Dey'll be in da 'Grayt Oak'. Dat's a big oak in da enter o' da glade. It's 'ollow. Da King's a big red skwirl, an' 'is wife's gray.”
“Thank you, my slaver”, said Zanog. “But always remember — if you play me false...”
“Why sh'd I play ya false, master? I'm nodda skwirl no more! Oh an' wun mor thing. Cudd ya do me a favour? Der's anodder skwirl dere, in da Great Oak. Do watt ya like wid da others, but don't kill 'im. I wan 'im alive.”
“Oh? And who is this 'odder skwirl'? What does he look like?”
“Red, like 'his fadder da King, but widd wun gray paw. Left.” Bloodpaw turned to go.
“And why should I leave him alive?” Zanog asked.
Bloodpaw, already almost through the door, turned his head.
“He's my brother”, he said softly, clenching his red paw and hurrying out of sight.
~TBC Yay! I'm back! And I've been busy! Next: more about the attack on the Dray.Tess Hare of sun and rain