Rakkety Tam, Page 2Brian Jacques
Walt winked at Jem. “Boi ’okey, thurr bee’s a creetur oi cudd dearly h’admire!”
Glisum seated them on a heap of dry sacks. They gasped with pleasure as the Friar opened his big oven, gesturing with a long paddle. “Mushroom pasties with hot gravy, leek and carrot bake topped with yellow cheese, or maybe some fresh-baked crusty wheatbread? Murly, heat up some of that harvest vegetable soup we had for supper last night. There’s a good little maid!”
A tubby little molemaid, in frilly apron and mob cap, curtsied. “Zoop bee’s cummen roight h’away, zurrs!”
Skipper gaped in awe as the guests shed their travelling gear and fell upon the food hungrily. “Great seasons, ’tis a good job there’s only two of ye, mates! ’Ow many famines ’ave ye lived through?”
Jem looked up from his second pastie. “Too many, mate. We done nought but dream o’ Redwall grub for eight seasons!”
Walt grabbed a crusty loaf. After tearing it apart, he began dunking it in the savoury onion gravy. “Ho gurt h’Abbey vikkles!”
Virtually no conversation ensued as Hitheryon Jem and Wandering Walt applied themselves wholeheartedly to the good fare provided by Friar Glisum and his kitchen staff. Abbot Humble and the others knew they would have to wait for news of the comings and goings in other places until both guests had taken their fill. It had been a long time since the travellers’ last visit, and the Abbey creatures were anxious to hear the news from places far beyond Redwall. As the kitchens would be busy with mealtimes, Humble ordered the fire to be banked up in Cavern Hole and two comfortable armchairs moved close to the hearth. His guests could rest there and talk in relative comfort and peace.
Much later in the morning, Jem and Walt vacated the kitchens. As they made their way across Great Hall, the main door opened. The Dibbuns finally had been rounded up and were being marched in for a very late breakfast. Sister Armel, the pretty young squirrel who was Infirmary Keeper, led the way. She was accompanied by her two helpers—Foremole Bruffy and Sister Screeve, the stout, cheery mouse who was Abbey Recorder. All three were trying to gain some semblance of order amid the excited little ones.
“Wipe those paws thoroughly on the mat, please! Stand in line.”
Sister Armel eyed a tubby mousebabe sternly. “Mimsie, please take that snowball outside and throw it away.”
Mimsie waved cheerily to Humble. “Goo’ mornin’, h’Abbit. I jus’ gonna frow dis snowball ’way.”
Abbot Humble nodded understandingly. “There’s a good little maid, it’s not nice to take snowballs in to breakfast.”
Mudge the molebabe called out helpfully, “Hurr, ’cos snowyballs can’t eat breffist. Can they’m, zurr?”
A hedgehog Dibbun named Perkle piped up. “An’ hysiggles can’t not eat breffist, neither, can they?”
Mudge shook his head solemnly. “No, they’m carn’t, you’m gurt pudden-’eaded choild!”
Sister Screeve retrieved a long, pointed icicle from Perkle. “Give me that icicle before you put somebeast’s eye out with it.”
Skipper laughed at the antics of the Dibbuns, who, now that they remembered they were hungry, were anxious to be fed. They squeaked and bounced up and down as the helpers tried to keep them in line. They splashed about in puddles of melted snow which dripped from them.
The otter chieftain called to the helpers, “Sister Armel, when you get that lot brekkisted, may’aps you’n Foremole an’ Screeve might like to drop by Cavern ’ole to ’ear the latest news from Jem’n’Walt.”
Sister Screeve chivvied three latecomers into line. “Thank you, I’ll bring quill and parchment to record any important events. We’ll see you down there shortly.”
An hour later, all Redwallers interested in hearing the news were gathered in Cavern Hole. They waited respectfully until Hitheryon Jem had sipped at a tankard of mulled October Ale. He smacked his lips appreciatively, glanced at the eager faces of his audience and then commenced.
“Well now, my good friends, those last two winters were so deep an’ hard that me’n ole Walt here couldn’t make it up to yore Abbey, but here we are now. Other seasons were fine—springtimes fresh, summers warm an’ autumns agreeable. There weren’t much to report on until this late autumn. Then we came across a mighty strange thing, didn’t we, Walt?”
Putting aside his tankard, the mole blinked dozily in the warm firelight glow. “Burr aye, et wurr strange an’ h’odd, vurry h’odd!”
Sister Screeve dipped her quill into some ink swiftly. “Strange and odd—in what way, pray tell?”
Jem gazed into the fire, as if reliving the incident. “It were a sunny morn, but misty. We was rovin’ along the tideline, southwest, a couple o’ leagues from the mountain strong’old of Salamandastron. There on the shore we espied a small vessel, wrecked it were, an’ washed up on the rocks. So, me’n Walt, we went to see wot we could do. Right, Walt?”
But the old mole had slipped off into a slumber, wooed by the fire and the comfortable armchair. Jem smiled, then continued with his narrative.
“Looks like I’m bound to tell this tale alone. Aye, ’twere a small craft, with a simple square-rigged sail, smashed to bits an’ stoved in by the rocks. All that was in it was a few empty food sacks, a broken water cask an’ some fish bones. But there were tracks aplenty, runnin’ up the beach an’ headed nor’east. We took a good look at them marks, made by a single beast they were. I tell ye, it made pawprints like we’d never seen, great wide blurry ones with deep curvin’ clawmarks—bigger’n those of a badger. The claws were broader, more pointed, not blunt like a badger’s but very sharp an’ long. By the blurrin’ o’ the tracks, I figgered this must be a beast with long hair comin’ from its paws. By the length o’ the pawmarks, an’ their depth, Walt reckoned that the thing’d be about the same size as a big male badger. Anyhow, we was thinkin’ of makin’ our way over to visit ye at Redwall afore winter set in. So seein’ as the tracks went in the same direction, we decided to follow ’em, just to get a look o’ this oddbeast.”
Jem paused to refill his tankard, giving the Abbot the chance to enquire, “Did you not visit the mountain of Salamandastron at all?”
The wanderer nodded. “Aye, we stopped there at the end o’ spring season—that ole mountain fortress ain’t changed a whit. Lady Melesme is still the Badger Ruler o’ the western shores, she an’ those hares send ye all their fond best wishes. Oh, I forgot to mention, Melesme’s sendin’ ye a gift.”
Brother Gordale leaned forward. “A gift, for us?”
Jem took a draught of his ale. “Do ye remember about four summers back, when she visited here with that troop of Long Patrol hares? Both yore bells were down for cleanin’ whilst ye repaired the bellropes. D’ye recall that?”
Foremole Bruffy wrinkled his velvety brow. “Ho aye, oi amembers et. Ee gurt badger lady sayed she’m missed ee sounds uv our bells. Hurr, she’m wurr gurtly fond of ee bellnoises.”
Skipper nodded. “That’s right, so she was. Lady Melesme said to me that if’n our bells were down, we should ’ave somethin’ to mark the times o’ day an’ night.”
Jem winked at the otter. “Well, she’s sendin’ ye a drum.”
Sister Screeve paused from her recording. “A drum?”
The traveller explained. “Hoho, but what a drum, marm! When I saw it, ’twas only half made. The drumskin was taken from a big dead shark. The hares found it washed up on the beach one mornin’. Melesme an’ the hares were makin’ the casin’ from two great circles of elmwood, an’ the ribbin’ from sharkbone. I saw the hares at the forge, beatin’ out gold an’ silver to decorate the rim an’ edges o’ the drum. ’Tis goin’ to be a drum the like o’ which ye’ve never seen!”
Abbot Humble folded both paws into his wide sleeves. “How kind and thoughtful of our friend Melesme. We must think of something to send her in return—perhaps a beautifully woven robe and a keg of sweet damson and elderberry wine. She was very fond of my wine when she visited us.”
e turned to Jem impatiently. “Yes, yes, but on with the tale, my friend. Did you and Walt follow the tracks which ran up the shore?”
Jem took up the threads of his tale again. “Oh aye, marm. We followed right enough. It looked like the beast were travellin’ fast, though, as if ’twere in haste to get clear o’ the coast. Walt’n me thought mayhaps the creature was bein’ pursued, but we weren’t in no rush, just followed at our own pace, slow’n’steady. Ole Walt an’ meself, we’ve never hurried for nobeast. Those tracks was as clear as the snout on yore face, so we plodded on after ’em. The trail took us off’n the shore, up into the hills, o’er the clifftops. From there it were all trekkin’ across heaths an’ moorlands, fordin’ rivers an’ brooks’n’streams. It took quite a few days, I can tell ye. We made it into the southwest marches o’ Mossflower Woodlands.”
Jem savoured the taste of his October Ale. “Aye, ’twas of a nightfall when we reached the trees. Lucky we did, marm, ’cos it came on to storm somethin’ fearful. So me’n ole Walt dug in under a rocky ledge for shelter. Huh, I wouldn’t be out in a storm like that’n for anythin’!”
Sister Armel interrupted Jem. “That big thunderstorm . . . but that was only five nights ago?”
The hedgehog nodded, holding out his tankard for a refill. “Right ye are, pretty miss. Otherwise we’d have arrived at yore Abbey two days afore the snow. Findin’ that beast cost us time.”
“So you did find the creature?” Abbot Humble enquired.
The traveller held his footpaws up to the fireglow. “That we did, cousin. ’Twas the followin’ morn when it ’appened. Neither of us was sure o’ the trail, y’see—that storm’d washed out the tracks. Well, we was wanderin’ along as best as we could, when ole Walt ’ears noises. A sort of gruntin’ an’ groanin’ an’ yowlin’, like as if somebeast was in pain. So we goes toward the din, an’ there ’twas, trapped under a big ole rotted sycamore that the storm musta blowed down. Got it right across its back, snapped the thing’s spine, I reckon. ’Twas clear the beast was dyin’. It was built like a big male badger, though its limbs was thicker an’ shorter. Strange-lookin’ thing—pointed, weaselly snout, with a thick, bushy-furred body, blackish brown, with lighter stripes runnin’ down both sides to a tail thicker’n a squirrel’s. But you should’ve seen its claws an’ teeth! I never seen such dangerous claws, or so many sharp fangs in one mouth. Made yore blood run cold t’see that animal, snarlin’, growlin’, screechin’, an’ tryin’ to bite its way through a tree trunk ten times its size!”
Foremole Bruffy twitched his snout curiously. “Boi ’okey! Wot did ee do, zurr?”
Hitheryon Jem shrugged. “Wasn’t alot we could do, really. As soon as it saw us, the beast roared an’ yowled even louder. That fallen sycamore was a great ole woodland giant of a thing—a score o’ creatures couldn’t ’ave budged it. So me’n Walt tried talkin’ to the beast. We told it we was friends an’ didn’t mean it no harm. Hah, it just bared its fangs at us an’ said, ‘Nobeast is friend of Askor. Ye come near, I tear ye to pieces. Askor slays all enemy, everybeast is enemy!’ ”
Jem paused and looked around at his audience. “Well, friends, I ask ye, wot were we t’do? Ole Walt threw Askor his canteen in case he was thirsty, but he flung it back at us. When I tossed him some food, he did the same thing. Can ye imagine it? Layin’ there under a big fallen tree, dyin’ of a broken back an’ refusin’ food, drink an’ friendship. I lost patience with Askor an’ told him he was a thick’eaded fool. He just gave a nasty laugh an’ said, ‘Gulo will come. Tell him I say he will never find Walking Stone. Askor soon will die, then you can eat me’!”
A horrified gasp came from Sister Armel. “Eat him?”
Jem clenched his jaw grimly. “Aye, those were his very words, miss. Huh, I told him we ’ad no intention of eatin’ him. Then he laughed, showed us those fangs of his an’ said, ‘You are fool, not eat Askor? Weak fool. I am wolverine, all beasts are my enemy. Wolverine eat enemy, grow strong on their blood! When Gulo find me, I will be long dead, not good to eat. You tell him, Askor wins, Walking Stone is mine forever. Gulo will never find Walking Stone.’ ”
Abbot Humble was keen to hear more. “What did you do then?”
Jem sat back. “Nothin’, we did nothin’. We knew his name was Askor an’ that he was a wolverine, though we’d never heard o’ such a creature. That beast must’ve been mad with the pain his broken back was causin’ him, but it were more’n that. Askor wouldn’t talk to us anymore. He just lay there waitin’ for death to take him. Mutterin’ on about the one called Gulo an’ sayin’ how he’d never get his paws on the thing called Walkin’ Stone. So I asked him to tell me more about Gulo an’ the Walkin’ Stone. Askor went quiet for a bit, then he spoke.”
Sister Screeve dipped her quill pen into the ink. “Can you recall the wolverine’s words?”
Jem continued. “He said, ‘Gulo the Savage is my brother. Nobeast is more bloodthirsty and fierce than Gulo. We live in the lands of ice, beyond the great sea. Dramz, our father, ruled over all, even though he was growing sick and old. He was obeyed, as long as he owned the Walking Stone. It was his wish that, after his death, we would share the Walking Stone and rule together, but Gulo did not want this. He murdered our father and took the Walking Stone. It was I, Askor, who stole it from Gulo. The moment I did this, my life was in danger. Gulo had the white foxes and ermine on his side. I would be a deadbeast if I stayed in the lands of ice. But the Walking Stone was as much mine as his, so I stole a boat and sailed away. Gulo will come after me, as sure as night follows day. He would find where the Walking Stone is, then kill me and eat me. Not now, though—I will already be dead. Gulo the Savage will not find where I have hidden the Walking Stone. He cannot be ruler without it. Askor has won!’ ”
Jem paused. “So I asked him where he had hidden the Walking Stone. I never expected Askor t’tell me, an’ I’m not sure he did, but these were his exact words. Sister, ye’d best write this down while I can still remember.
“Where the sun falls from the sky,
and dances at a pebble’s drop,
where little leaves slay big leaves,
where wood meets earth I stop.
Safe from the savage son of Dramz,
here the secret lies alone,
the symbol of all power, the mighty Walking Stone.”
Jem glanced at the Abbot. “A riddle if ever I heard one—eh, cousin?”
Humble nodded slowly. “Aye, a very puzzling rhyme, Jem. Tell me, what happened then?”
Twirling dregs in his tanker, the old hedgehog quaffed the last of his ale. “ ’Twas a terrible thing to see. Askor reared up and shouted, ‘I defeated thee, Gulo. Me, Askor, I won! When next I see your face, I will laugh at you in the light of the fires at Hellgates.’ Then he gave a mighty roar and gripped the fallen trunk with all four paws. You should’ve seen the size o’ that log, but I swear he actually lifted it a fraction! Then he slumped back an’ fell dead, probably from the exertion an’ the strain o’ his broken back. We couldn’t get him out for buryin’, so me an’ Walt covered his body over with loam an’ dead leaves, leavin’ Askor where he lay. Then we set out for Redwall Abbey. Ole Walt, bein’ a rock o’ good sense, made sure we covered our tracks well. Nobeast could have followed us, ’cos Walt’s an expert at wipin’ out a trail.”
Sister Screeve, looking alarmed, put down her quill. “Do you think that the evil brother, this Gulo the Savage, will come here? Mayhaps he’ll think that you and Walt found the Walking Stone and have taken it with you.”
Skipper patted her back reassuringly. “Don’t fret, marm. Jem’n’Walt knows all the skills o’ woodcraft. I wager not even a hungry serpent could’ve followed ’em here. Ain’t that right, Father?”
Humble trusted the otter chieftain’s judgement. “Skipper’s right, Sister Screeve. No need for you or any other Redwaller to worry over such things. However, I’d be obliged if you didn’t go speaking of the incident to others. No need to concern them unduly.”
r /> Foremole Bruffy held a big blunt digging claw to his mouth. “Hushee naow, zurrs’n’marms. Ole Jem bee’s falled to sleepin’.”
Jem’s head had dropped back upon the cushions. A combination of food, ale and warmth had lulled him into a peaceful slumber. Removing the empty tankard from Jem’s grasp, the Abbot lowered his voice. “Poor weary travellers, they both look worn out. Leave them to their rest, friends. Let’s go and see what mischief those Dibbuns are up to.”
Silently, the Redwallers tippawed from Cavern Hole. Skipper and Abbot Humble were last to leave. The otter chieftain latched the door gently, murmuring to Humble, “No more fires on the walltops for a while, Father. I’ll tell the wallguards to stay alert during the night, an’ keep a weather eye peeled for anythin’ unusual. No sense invitin’ trouble by bein’ unprepared.”
The Abbot patted Skipper’s brawny paw. “A good idea, my friend. I’ll leave the arrangements to you.”
After breakfasting late, the Dibbuns had stampeded out into the snow again. Inside, the Abbey was relatively quiet. The dishes had been cleared away from Great Hall tables, and most of the elders had gone outdoors. Humble knew that they went on the pretext of watching the Abbeybabes, though mainly they wanted to join in the fun.
Humble wandered over the worn floorstones, stopping at the tapestry of Martin the Warrior. He it was who had fought to free Mossflower Country, and helped to build the Abbey, in the dim, countless seasons of long ago. Martin was the very essence and spirit of Redwall. Now his marvellous sword was displayed between two brackets over the tapestry. Humble gazed up at the figure of the heroic mouse whose likeness was woven lovingly into the huge ancient tapestry. His features were strong and resolute; his eyes—friendly, gallant and caring—seemed to follow wherever one went.
From outside, the Abbot could hear the distant merriment where everybeast was playing on the Abbey pond. It was a sound very dear to the old Cellarhog who had risen to be Father Abbot of Redwall. He whispered to Martin, “Don’t let any ill fortune disturb the peace and happiness of our home—I beg you, Martin.”