A Redwall Fanfiction by Poncho D
The third day of summer dawned a cloudless blue over Mossflower, but with the tinge of blue-grayish haze on the horizon that promised a horrendously hot day. Skipper of Otters had started drifting in and out of sleep about an hour before dawn. When the first sliver of orange light appeared on the oaken wall opposite the window of the guest-room, he yawned and stretched himself into full wakefulness. He rose from the bed, careful not to wake Lyla, his mate of one season who greatly valued her late-morning slumbers, and would remind anybeast who roused her of this fact in no uncertain terms.
Skipper dressed in his faded dark green tunic, brown belt and gray cloth breeches before leaving the bedroom he occupied at Brockhall, intent on finding breakfast. He brushed past Dinny in the narrow torch-lit hallway.
"Mornin', Foremole," Skipper greeted quietly as they passed.
"Mornin' to ee, Skip. Zurr Gonffen bain't oop and about yet, so if'n ye hurry, ye won't miss brekkist," the homely old mole chuckled.
"I don't think anybeast'll be missin' a meal, mate," Skipper laughed. "The way old Bella guards her larder, even Gonff would be lucky to get a nip of tea afore eight o'clock sharp. See you at table, lad."
As he made his way through the kitchen and study toward the front door of Brockhall, he allowed himself an ironic grin at his statement. It was Gonff's laziness that worked against him; none of the food had been pinched yet because Skipper and Dinny were the first two out of bed.
Second and third, he corrected himself as he emerged onto the front porch. "Top o' the mornin', Martin."
"Morning, Skip. You're up early." The warrior mouse sat reclined in a large chair on the front porch surrounding the ancient tree, a steaming cup in his lap.
"Sunrise don't capture your 'eart?" Skipper asked, taking the chair next to Martin's. They were on the western side of Brockhall, facing a point south.
"Not this morning," Martin replied laconically, sipping his tea, and gestured toward the horizon. It was far, nearly a mile, but Skipper's keen eyes could make out the great wooden skeleton of a building in the distance. A framework of bare wooden beams surrounded by pulleys on great towers, and piles of salmon-hued stone blocks. Martin and Skipper sat in silence and watched the birth of a dream.
"Magnificent, isn't it?" Skipper breathed. "Come next summer, that place will be reality. Abbess Germaine will be thrilled to her soul."
"And rightfully so," Martin answered absently, taking another sip of tea.
Skipper had always known Martin to be a mouse of few words, but the Warrior seemed even quieter than usual this morning. For the past couple of days, he had been somewhat pensive, a far-away look in his eyes.
He had been like this last summer, shortly before fighting the wildcat, but had snapped out of it after a few days. At the time, Skipper had decided not to ask. Warriors were a special breed; battle did things to a creature's mind that those who had the good fortune not to experience it could never understand, and it was to be expected that Martin might not want to talk about it.
He still wore bandages around some of his battle wounds, and would show signs of pain in his arms and legs if bad weather threatened. But he had recovered enough to walk about freely, and even help with the construction of Abbess Germaine's great building, so long as his wrappings remained clean and tight enough to prevent infection.
"Somethin' on your mind, Martin?" Skipper asked, breaking his code of silence.
"Nothing, Skip. I'm fine," Martin said with a reassuring smile. "I was just thinking that we'd better get inside." He stood, and poured out the rest of his tea on the grass. "Bella will be serving breakfast soon, and then it'll be off to the lakebed for another day's work."
The day's work proved to be as cut out for them as it had been every day of the last season. By nine o'clock, the sun had become daunting. The birds were quiet, and bees droned lazily in the still, heavy air.
Three longs lines of mice, moles, squirrels, hedgehogs, otters, and even Log-a-Log's shrews marched briskly onto the work site, bags of tools and food and canteens of water slung over their shoulders.
"Aw roight, crew," Dinny called as his moles got the other creatures organized in front of the skeletal abbey, "Be you'm a gettin' busy naow, no layin' aboot. Abbess a-wantin' four more of theym rarfters on ee roof and two-score o' gurt red blockers boi sun-daown."
Skipper couldn't help but be impressed as everybeast scurried off to their duties. "That's one fine crew you got there, Foremole," he complimented, watching appreciatively as creatures of every kind swarmed back and forth over the four-story pavilion that would soon become Redwall Abbey.
"Hurr hurr, so theym be, Skip," Dinny agreed. "Roight dedeekated, they are. Oi reckon they got a-plunty to do, tho." He shook his velvety head. "Yon bunch'll be gurtly toired and hungered come supper toime."
"And deservin' of every bite," Skipped added. "I wish we had more of 'em, though. Why, one badger could cut our schedule by a whole season."
"True 'nuff," the Foremole nodded. "Too bad ee only sroipedog we got be's too ould t'do much more'n soopervois'n."
"And not even that anymore," the otter laughed, slapping Dinny on the back. "We got another beast here for that job." He turned to go. "Mind the fort, mate. I'll be up on the roof."
Dinny's words rang true; by noon most of the workers were thirsty, sweaty, and exhausted, and the workday was only just beginning. Fearing health concerns, Skipper and Dinny were allowing them to work in shifts, between which they were to rest and drink plenty of water. Dinny was now supervising the unloading of the big chunks of sandstone the miners had brought from the quarry up north.
Skipper had just relieved Martin and Gonff's team on the roof, and was now overseeing the installation of today's third rafter of the four Abbess Germaine had asked for. A dozen of the things were already in place, and if all went well, today would see the last of them. Then, in days to come, others could start laying the planking and bricks that would form the roof proper.
A score of burly hedgehogs were tugging on a rope that held up the huge oaken beam. They let the rope play out as gently as they could, lest the rafter fall.
"Careful, mates," Skipper called. "Easy does it. Now, let her down. Mind those ropes, now. If that thing slips, it'll kill somebeast for sure!"
They nearly had it in place when one of the hedgehogs at the south end lost his footing at the edge of the roof, and had to dance forward to avoid tumbling four stories. There were three ropes holding up the rafter. The one at his end slid off, and the great piece of wood swung around counter-clockwise toward the other side of the roof, where Martin was off-duty, conversing with Gonff and drinking water from a canteen.
Martin never saw it coming. The rafter struck the back of his head and knocked him unconscious before Skipper could even shout a warning.
The fighting was coming to an end. The smoke had drifted off from the fortress, and the distant sounds of battle had waned to the occasional clank of a blade as the attackers dispatched the last of the resistance.
Down in the pit, the young mouse shoved the corpse of his enemy off him, and stood. After a quick look around to survey the situation, he reclaimed his weapon from the dead stoat and, using the body for a boost, climbed from the hole.
Despite the carnage around him, his eyes went immediately to a limp form lying near the wall. He barely heard himself gasp as his heart sank. "Rose?"
He sprinted to where the mousemaid lay, and knelt next to her. "No," he croaked, cradling her gently. "Rose, please be alright," he begged as he smoothed the fur back from her brow. "Forgive me."
As if in answer to his plea, he felt a twitch, and a weak puff of warm air on his ear. The heart that he felt had dropped into his bowels now shot up into his neck. "Rose?" he breathed, drawing back, afraid to believe it. "Brome, Ballaw!" he bellowed. "Over here, come quickly!"
The healer mouse and his hare companion appeared as if by magic. "Oh, heavens," Brome whispered as he knelt at his sister's other side and broke out his herbs and dressings. "Rose, what have they done to you?"
"Martin, what happened, lad?" Ballaw asked as they watched Brome go to work.
"I don't know," Martin answered. "I was busy with Badrang." He spoke the name as if it were a swear word. He looked down, and noticed the paw he had held Rose's head with was soaked in red.
"She hit her head on something," Brome concluded as he examined her. "Ballaw, bring my pack. I need needles, thread and ice. Go, now!"
"Will she..." Martin started.
"It's possible," Brome interrupted, looking up at Martin with an unreadable expression. "But it'll be a race. I have only limited supplies. We have to get her back to Noonvale right away, but I can't think how to move her without killing her."
"Allow me, young one," A female voice answered as a great owl landed next to them. "Finish binding her wound, and I'll have her home within the hour."
"Thank you, Boldred, with all my heart," Martin said solemnly. "We all owe you a great deal."
"You owe me nothing." The owl turned her fearsome yellow gaze on Brome, and spread her wings. "Call for me when you are finished. I will see you in Noonvale!"
Martin watched the Waterlilly's bow cut the foaming river as the ship fought her way upstream. Boldred had returned with her news.
"Rose?" Martin asked.
"Alive." The owl shook her head. "But just barely. They said her skull cracked from the blow. If she lives through the night, we can take it as a sign that she will recover. But even then, she may not be the same."
Martin stared at the horizon. "I know I can't will the river to flow any faster, Boldred. But it just drives me mad that I can only stand here and do nothing. There is nothing I wouldn't give in return for her life."
Boldred put her wing about the frightened warrior, and looked down at him. "Including your own, as you have already proven. But there is only one who decides these things, Martin, and if you will forgive my saying so, I don't think that He is given to bargaining." She returned her gaze to the river. "He sees and knows things that we don't. You must trust that no matter how strange His plans look to us, His business is to help, not harm."
The great bird spread her wings again. "Go get some rest, warrior. I must return to my mountain for the moment. I will bring more information when I can."
In gusts of cool air and a scattering of yellow leaves, summer faded to Autumn. After taking the initial shock at what had happened to their Patriarch's daughter, the creatures of Noonvale gradually returned to their business.
Rose had made a partial recovery over a score of days. Although she was still weak, and certainly wouldn't be following her warrior off into anymore battles (at the insistence of said warrior and her parents), the battered mousemaid was no longer bedridden; had not been for a week.
Martin sat deep in thought at the little fountain in front of Council Lodge, watching the sunset bathe the trees and cottages of Noonvale in fiery orange.
The Chieftain himself, Martin reflected, was the unknown quantity. Martin had expected him to be angry, but what he got was far worse. Chief Urran Voh had largely ignored him. Oh, he'd been civil enough, and if addressed directly would speak to his daughter's suitor in clipped, terse sentences. But otherwise he avoided Martin. Even when the happy couple had announced their engagement at the victory feast, Urran's voice had been noticeably absent from the cheers and well wishes.
Presently, Martin felt a gentle paw on his shoulder, and turned as his bride-to-be joined him at the fountain. Rose was clad in a simple sky-blue cotton dress. She had dispensed with her pony-tail, and her long head-fur flowed freely down her back. "A fine evening," Martin greeted as she took his paw. "How are you feeling, Rose?"
"Good to be alive," she answered quietly. "Things could have gone very differently, Martin."
Her voice, he had noticed, had taken a different quality. It was a touch deeper, her speech a little slower. Something to do with her injury, he wondered?
Martin wound an arm about her waist and drew her close. "Let's not speak of that," he admonished gently. "It's not important."
"But it is," she countered. He turned to her, and found himself looking down into the hazel eyes that had so astonished him the first time he saw her. She reached up, and ran a finger down his neck, to the small open area at the top of his tunic, tracing the scars on his chest. "Every one of these," she explained, "is one that an innocent creature of Noonvale does not bear." She slowly embraced him, and lay her head on his shoulder. "I would have married you for that reason alone, Martin. Even if you were not the humblest, most giving and courageous creature I have ever known."
Martin flushed awkwardly at her words, and answered by returning her embrace. The spell was broken by Grumm's voice from the doorway of Rose's home. "Be yew two luvvey-burds a-comin' insoide?" he called with a hearty chuckle. "Youm'll miss yer supper!"
Thock. Thock. The heavy iron blade made a dull sound as it bit deep into the tough old sycamore wood. Martin shouldered his ax for a moment, and shook the snow from his footpaws. After a couple of breaths, he started chopping at the firewood again.
His first winter in Noonvale had started with just a touch of chilly air, and a few snowflakes. But this one had come in like an angry badger. A great blizzard, the first in the town's history, had piled snow half-way up the front doors of some homes. But the industrious Noonvalers, Martin included, had been quick to shovel it aside, and just as quick to celebrate their victory against the elements with a feast.
Two more strokes of the ax finished the job, and Martin took a moment to look up. The sun had gone down only a short while ago, and left behind a leaden sky that promised more snow tomorrow. After observing his handiwork, Martin quickly loaded the wood into a wheelbarrow and made for the front door of his home. Three big sycamore logs, each about two paw-lengths across, he reckoned, would keep them warm for at least a fortnight.
A gust of wonderfully warm air greeted the retired warrior as he pushed open his front door. He rolled the wheelbarrow into a corner near the fireplace, and sank gratefully into his favorite chair. As he lit up his pipe, he watched his wife across the room, turning her needlework to catch the firelight. "Supper's nearly ready," Rose told him, gesturing to the kettle hanging over the fire.
"It smells lovely," Martin complimented, taking a big breath of the stew's aroma. Curious, he watched Rose's fingers nimbly working a needle back and forth through a piece of cloth resting on her enormous abdomen. "A blanket, then?" he asked.
"Yes." She looked over at him. "I hear Starwort and Pallum are making good headway on the cradle."
"I visited old Starwort today," he informed her around his pipe. "He says all that sawing and hammering is driving Marigold up the wall." He took the pipe from his mouth and laughed. "That old seadog is no carpenter. Still, he and Pallum are doing a fine job. It'll be ready in about a week."
Setting her work aside, Rose lifted herself from her chair, and moved to the fireplace. She stirred the poker around in the coals, lowering the flames so she could get to the kettle. "Well, I really hope Rosabell-"
"Alexander!" Martin protested.
"Very well," Rose giggled. "It just seems an odd name for a maid."
He went to her and put his arms about her waist, nuzzling her neck. "Great seasons, but you are a stubborn one, wife."
They had fought bitterly for a whole season over having a little one at all, after Martin had made a frightening discovery. While they were having lunch at her parents' house one summer afternoon, Rose had, for no apparent reason, let out a piercing shriek and collapsed on the floor, thrashing and salivating. It had taken three full-grown male otters to restrain her, and after her convulsions subsided, she had slept until sundown.
It was too dangerous, Martin had insisted. Despite Brome's treatment for the Fits, as it was called, if one of those awful things happened while Rose was in the middle of giving birth, it could kill her and the babe.
But her pleas and reasoning and his own longing for a son had made him relent, on the strict condition that Rose double up on her medicine, and so by this time next week, Martin of Noonvale, the one-time warrior, would be a father.
The ladies of the village couldn't stop oohing and ahh-ing over baby Alex. In Council Lodge, the infant's proud parents stood arm in arm, all smiles at the gush of compliments, as the others leaned over the wicker basket on the table for a look at the tiny, tawny-furred newborn.
"Oh, Rosie, he's beautiful!"
"Martin, he looks just like you! Oh look, Lilly, don't you think he has Martin's eyes?"
"Youm and Mizz Rosie be gurtly blessed, Zurr Marthen."
This last remark came from Grumm Trencher's wife of four seasons, who's waistline bulged with their own little one in waiting.
"We are all blessed," Martin said, and raised his tankard of ale. "To Noonvale!"
"May the seasons always be kind to Noonvale!" they all answered as one.
Later, as the feast slacked off, the crowds started to split up by gender. At a table in the corner sat Martin, Starwort, and Urran-Voh. Martin had regained his father-in-law's respect in a move that had shocked everybeast, Rose most of all. Life was too short, he had decided, for his family to spend it in constant fear of having to bury him before his time. The great sword that he had fought and bled for now hung on two pegs over the fireplace in he and Rose's house, a mere showpiece to add atmosphere to the cozy cottage. Martin the Warrior had been a fighter born; Martin of Noonvale was a husband and father who had greater responsibilities than chasing after every idiot rat or weasel who bore a weapon.
"Martin, lad," Urran asked casually, leaning back in his chair. "What do you think of these plans they keep talking about, for rebuilding that old fort over on the eastern coast?"
"Marshank?" Martin shook his head. "It's the most awful notion I've heard of in seasons." He put his ale on the table and leaned forward. "I begged them to push that rotten old mess over when we finished with it. Forgive my saying so, sir, but the place is a graveyard. Good creatures died there, many of them our own. The least we can do is not to disturb their bones."
Urran hmmphed, and took a swig of his beer. "Well, I for one think it's a fine idea. Repair the defenses, crew it up with goodbeasts, and it would make a perfect outpost for warning us of trouble."
"But it's half burned to the ground, Urran," Starwort pointed out. "And if'n woodlanders did make use of it, there ain't no way in Hell's teeth they wouldn't ask for Noonvale's help. I say your folk have done their part, sir."
"Agreed," Martin added. "Even if we had any reason to expect trouble, I think it would save far more wood and work to just set some lightly armed patrols about: they could cover far more territory." His brow furrowed. "'Sides, there hasn't been sight or sound of vermin in these parts ever since we brought down that coward Badrang."
"Beggin' your pardon, Martin, but there has," Urran said. "Why, just the other day, old Aggril told me he had a guest who swore to have seen a ferret in the cherry orchards, not two leagues from here. Big strapping fellow with a nose ring, covered in tattoos and carrying a blade like the kind we use for harvesting crops."
"Idle gossip," Martin dismissed with a wave.
"Now see here," Urran objected. "Aggril may not be the most civil creature alive, but that old hedgehog's seen more seasons than I have, and he has no reason to lie to us."
Martin slowly stood from his chair. "Well, if there's anything to be done about it," he said with a yawn, "then there's no reason it can't be done tomorrow. I say we gather a few volunteers for a little scouting, just in case." He looked over to where his wife was sitting, engaged in conversation with two mousemaids. "I reckon Rose and the baby will be wanting to head home. 'Night, you two."
Barkjon did not live in Noonvale. After losing his son in the great battle of Marshank, the old squirrel had chosen to live out his days in solitude, despite many invitations to come and stay in the valley.
Martin stopped to rest, and took a gulp of water from his canteen. He did not begrudge Barkjon his choice, but surely his old friend might have picked a better dwelling than this. Situated near the root of a mountain, surrounded by coarse sand and scraggly pampas grass, the little hut was a two-hour hike from Noonvale. The long trip over rough terrain made it difficult to get food and medical attention out here.
He had been helping Rose in the garden when the otter Keyla, a friend from his days in Marshank, had come calling. Barkjon, he had said, was ill: the dreaded "flurgy-twinge" Keyla had made up to outwit Badrang's guards had coincidentally turned out to be very real, though of course it didn't go by that name.
Martin adjusted the pack on his shoulders containing the herbs and medicines Brome had given him for delivery, and trudged up the hill to meet his friends.
When the door opened, the elderly squirrel's face lit up with pleasure. "Well, if it isn't the Hero of the Northlands!" he marveled, his voice creaking like an old windmill. "What's a great battle-beast like you doing out in these parts?"
"Barkjon, you old treejumper!" Martin greeted, giving his friend a quick hug. "How are you?"
Barkjon shook his head as he gestured for Martin to step inside the hut. "I've seen better seasons, I'm afraid," he said as he closed the door behind him. "Good thing young Keyla here has been looking after me." He gestured to the otter, who stepped up and shook Martin's paw. "How's married life treatin' you, Martin?" Keyla asked.
"Much the same as it's treating you, I reckon," Martin chuckled as he unpacked the parcels of herbs and other items. "Work all day, then come home and work some more."
"They keep us on our feet, don't they?" Keyla agreed.
"Oh, gerroff, ye great fibber," Barkjon laughed. "You should have heard this young scallywag, Martin. 'Tullgrew this, Tullgrew that. He hasn't stopped gushing about her since he got here. I'm surprised he didn't bring that lass along."
"I tried, thank you," Keyla said indignantly. "But I couldn't get a word in edgewise for the chore list she was givin' me."
"Well, I'm afraid I can't stay," Martin told them, making for the door. "I've got a chore list of my own, and heaven knows little ones can make more of a fuss than wives ever dreamed of." He gestured to the bottles and parcels he had taken from the pack. "Brome says to boil those down good, and make sure he gets every drop. The damp cloths will help keep the..."
"Martin, what is it?" Keyla asked with concern when his friend trailed off, staring out the door.
"Somebeast's coming this way," Martin answered quickly, "and at the rate he's going, it looks like trouble."
A lone figure was running across the plain toward the hut. When the creature arrived, Martin saw what was left of a mouse. He was breathing heavily from the run. His fur was burnt in many places, his whole body bruised and cut. Martin's mouth dropped open when he realized this poor creature was he and Rose's neighbor.
"Martin," he gasped. "You've got to come...they...oh, heavens...oh, great bloody seasons," he collapsed on the ground sobbing, and Martin quickly pulled him to his footpaws. "Get a hold of yourself, Jeremy!" He took the mouse by the shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. "Slow down now, and tell me what happened."
The young mouse gave a loud snort as he fought to staunch his tears. "We were unarmed, we had no warning. I think three or four of us escaped. It was a great band of vermin, Martin, mostly weasels and ferrets. I don't think I saw any rats, but I'm pretty certain there was at least one fox and a big wildcat."
"Come on," Martin snapped, hurrying from the hut with Jeremy in his wake. Keyla ran after them. "I'm coming with you!" he shouted.
"No." A paw on his shoulder stopped the young otter. Martin drew the short sword he always carried when traveling, and passed it hilt-first to Keyla. "Look after the old one," He said gently, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "I'll be back with word as soon as I can."
An hour's run left Martin worse than breathless. His limbs felt like mud. But when he stopped, the sight before him made his heart literally quit beating for a few seconds.
It was hard to see anything through all the smoke and drifting ash, but there was no mistaking what had only this morning been Noonvale.
The waterfall was all that remained. Not one single home was more than half-standing, and even the great Council Lodge had an enormous hole in the roof through which thick black smoke billowed, to show that the building had been gutted by flames.
But the true teller of this sad story was the utter silence. There were no shouts of bucket brigades fighting the fires, no whimpers or moans of injured creatures, no clanking blades of brave Noonvalers defending their homes.
Anguish was not the word. There weren't any words. At one end of a burnt-out valley, a young mouse with no family sank to his knees in the dirt. He tried to open his mouth for a scream...
...and opened his eyes instead.
His first coherent thought was that it seemed an odd choice for fate to make, since there was a great deal to scream about, but very little to see.
He could have sworn his eyeballs were made of frosted glass. Somebeast was beating him about the head with a mallet, but he hadn't the energy to defend himself.
Martin managed a low moan. His throat felt like he had swallowed talcum powder. Blurred shapes moved around him, and voices gave him something to focus on.
"He's come to," a deep female voice said. "Get him some water."
He felt a paw on the back of his head, and something cold and wet coursed down his throat, dislodging the twigs and rocks he must have swallowed. At last, he found his voice. "How long?" he wheezed.
"About half an hour," a gruff Green Isle brogue answered. "You gave us a good fright there, lad."
"You took a terrible bump on the head," Deep Female said. "Skipper will stay with you. The rest of us will be back to check on you in a little while. Drink some more water, and sleep." His head was lifted again, and again the cool wetness eased his burning throat.
The delirious warrior couldn't have argued if he wanted to. He let himself drift back into unawareness, this time dreamlessly.
When he awoke he could see again, only to find that it was dark, the room lit by candles. "Welcome back, mate," Green Isle Brogue's voice came to him again. Martin rolled over in the bed to look for the source of the voice, wincing as his head pounded from the movement. "Skipper?" he asked, a low whisper all he could manage. He looked around his room in Brockhall, and lay on his back. "What on Earth happened to me?"
"I'll tell you what happened," Skipper snapped. "You decided to take your break on the roof, when you knew perfectly well to go back down after we took over. That beam barely missed Gonff, only to clean your clock instead." His voice changed from irritation to wonderment. "What were you doing up there, Martin? You might have been killed!"
"I'm sorry, Skip," Martin agreed, staring at the ceiling. "I didn't mean to trouble anyone, but I suppose what's done is done, isn't it?"
"That it is," Skipper nodded. "Well, as long as you're safe and sound." He got up from his chair by Martin's bed and moved to the door. "But you still lucked out, mate," he laughed. "No work for you tomorrow. You're to take a full day of rest, and not get beat in the noggin with anymore tree trunks. Come join us for supper if'n you feel ready to get up yet."
He reclined in one of the two big chairs on the front porch, sipping tea and looking out at another blue-gray dawn. Soon, the great lines of dedicated woodlanders would once again march off to the old lakebed to throw their hearts and souls into building their future home. Martin dearly wished he could join them, but Bella's orders were clear. The inhabitants of Redwall would need their warrior in good health, and that would not be possible if he made his concussion worse by working himself half to death.
"Shouldn't you be inside?"
Martin turned to see Skipper walk up and take a seat next to him.
"Probably," the injured warrior admitted. "But the dawn air feels nice. I hear that they're starting on the roof today."
"Aye." Skipper decided to allow the change of subject. "Bella and the Abbess would like to have it finished by the end of this week, so we can start brickin' in the walls. You know, Martin," he said reflectively, watching the morning sunshine burn off the last of the dew, "That abbey may have been Germaine's idea, but none of this could ever have happened if you hadn't come a-marchin' down from the hills when you did."
"Oh, I don't know," Martin said, taking another sip of tea. "Things can turn so many different ways, Skip. Tsarmina's idea of leadership isn't just savage and brutal, it really isn't that smart." He put his cup down on the arm of the chair and shook his bandaged head. "Vermin like her never seem to understand that honest creatures just won't have it. She'd have been overthrown sooner or later. If not by me, than by some other beast."
A bell sounded from inside Brockhall, and Skipper stood. "Well said, mate, but I think those honest creatures are about to be a little less hungry. Will you be joinin' us?"
Martin shook his head. "I'm not hungry, Skip. I think these pains in my head are making my stomach a little wobbly, too, so I'll stick to tea for now." He indicated the front door. "Go get some breakfast. Don't worry about me, I'll be right as rain by tomorrow."
Skipper nodded in reply, and went inside, leaving Martin to be alone with his thoughts.
His vision while lying unconscious in his bedroom weighed heavily on his mind. For a vision, he knew, was what it had been. It was too long to be a dream, and too vivid and clearly remembered to be a coincidence. He had lived many seasons in the space of less than half an hour. Somebeast or something had shown him another life, and as wonderful as it was while it lasted, the end result made him shudder. It seemed the perfect scolding for the self-pity he had indulged in over the past few days.
Sitting in his chair, enjoying his tea and looking out at the brightening morning, Martin decided that he would keep his promise to his northland friends, and continue telling nobeast the truth about his past.
He thought of what Boldred had told him aboard the Waterlilly, in that other un-lived life. Fate, he concluded, knew what she was doing after all. Perhaps some other beast might have come along and defeated the wildcats and their vermin army. But who? How much longer would Mossflower have languished under tyranny? And what of Gonff and Columbine, Skipper, Dinny, all the friends he had made here?
Martin would take this lesson to heart. No longer would he spend a solid week out of every summer hiding from his friends, moping alone and pondering how he might have saved Rose.
He already had.