|A Meeting with a Stranger
Author: lkcrm94 PM
(Formally known as 'Hidden Away') While lost in a largely-unknown and sinister part of Mossflower, Gonff comes across somebeast living in hiding…Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 8,145 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 08-04-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7252472
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Author's notes: I've been a reader of the Redwall books for some time now (the first one I read was Redwall). I used to watch the TV series as well (I'd recommend it to those who haven't seen it, although it differs from the books quite a bit in some places, and most of the characters' accents are painfully obviously fake). But it's safe to say that they're some of the best books EVER!
Wow, so this is the first time I've posted a fanfic in the space of less than 4 months of the one before! (I started writing this in June) Not only that, but this is also technically my first fanfic to have an original character! (My fanfic for Hard Times did have Bitzer's mother, who isn't in the book in person, but she is mentioned so she wasn't 100% original) I won't say who or what this original character is, but I will say that his speech is phonetically spelt out to display a regional British accent so you will notice unusual words and different spellings (you know how the molespeech is all phonetically spelt? It's like that, but for a different regional English accent). I will also say that if you're having trouble reading his dialogue, try and read it aloud.
By the way, I need to point out that this isn't canon, but I set this sometime after The Legend of Luke, because Gonff is one of the characters here and Redwall's construction is complete. And rather than describe the 'years', I mention the 'seasons' instead. Just in case you're wondering!
There was a hustling and a bustling at Redwall Abbey. The Redwallers were preparing for another grand feast. A few seasons before, they had celebrated the completion of the construction of Redwall. Although the Redwallers had been living in and by the abbey since construction began, its completion couldn't be ignored. Now it was several seasons later, and they were preparing another feast in honour of the placement of the last sandstone block. Everybeast was in the greatest of spirits, helping to prepare this feast in some form or another, whether they were setting the cutlery at the tables or picking fruit from the bushes and trees in the orchard.
However, Gonff the Mousethief had travelled further a field than the boundaries of Redwall Abbey in his quest for feast-assistance. It had come to the Redwallers' attentions that a vermin horde was camping in the outskirts of the north east of Mossflower Woods. Naturally, one would assume the vermin were preparing for an attack on Redwall Abbey or the like, but not this time. These vermin were having their own celebrations, though for reasons nobody knew or cared. Being the cunning and sneaky mouse he was, Gonff had slipped unnoticed into the camp while the vermin were preoccupied with mindless contests of honour, and being the Prince of Mousethieves, he had managed to carefully and silently sneak out of the camp with a good deal of the vermin horde's wine collection smuggled in a sack he swung over his shoulder.
Now Gonff was strolling through the woods, whistling to himself without a care. Who knew how the vermin would react to finding their wine had vanished without a trace? Gonff certainly didn't care. Who would?
"What a fine day it is to thieve!" Gonff said merrily to nobeast. He chuckled to himself and patted the sack of stolen wine. "This'll make a fine addition to the feast," he said. "I find stolen wine tastes better than standard wine. 'The finest' indeed!"
Gonff continued whistling, and he looked up at the strong trees and the blue sky that greeted him with every moment his eyes were open. But because he was so focused on what was above him, he didn't look what was below him. His feet made contact with a small rock that lay on the path, and Gonff lunged forward. Before him was a steep slope, and there was only one direction he was heading. Gonff rolled and spun down the slope, with the world tumbling around him as he fell down, down, down, down…
The next thing Gonff knew, he was flat lying on his back. He sat up, his head spinning and his vision blurred. What had happened? Had he been unconscious? And if so, for how long?
As he rubbed his head, he felt something damp on the ground underneath him. It was then when he noticed a dark-red puddle trickling from the sack which had landed nearby. Gonff yelped and sprang toward the sack, hurriedly opening it to see how many of the stolen bottles were broken. Fortunately for him, there was only the one. Gonff took an empty flagon from his satchel and poured in the remainder of what was left in the broken bottle.
It was then when Gonff finally got a look of his new surroundings. He was still in the woods, but not a part of the woods he had seen before. The gnarled trees loomed over the mouse, with their twisted branches and knotted roots and their leaves of brown and grey. The sun was still visible through the trees, but it seemed bleaker than usual, and the sky was grey with clouds that looked like they were about to pour rain onto the woods in the not-too-distant future. Nearby was a very steep slope – this was the one he had fallen down. An icy breeze blew, whistling through the treetops and making the Mousethief shiver.
The first thing Gonff tried to do was climb back up the slope he had fallen down, but it was too steep and the loose ground kept giving way underfoot. Gonff thought of calling to see if someone would hear him and lend him a paw, but something in his mind told him not to. He sensed the eerie feeling of being watched by unknown eyes.
"Well," Gonff said as he picked the sack up and swung it over his shoulder again, "There's no use staying round here. I suppose I'd better look for a way out."
And so, Gonff set off with the sack of stolen wine into the unknown. The sights he saw as he ventured on were just like what they were back at the bottom of the slope: crooked trees, twisted foliage, brown-grey leaves, grey sky. Everywhere he stepped was foreboding, and it all looked the same. He was almost certain he was walking around in circles.
After what felt like hours of wandering around, Gonff slumped against a tree and let himself sink to the ground. His left leg was hurting from the fall, but although there were no broken bones, this didn't encourage him. He'd practically given up hope by now.
"Let's face it: I'm lost," Gonff lamented in sadness. Images of Redwall flew through his head like leaves in the breeze. "I'm never going to get back to Redwall, I'm never going to see Columbine and Gonflet again, and I'm going to miss the feast." He looked around him at the unfamiliar surroundings. "I'm probably not even in Mossflower anymore for all I know." Looking to his left, a sight greeted him that made him forget his sorrow.
He was sitting next to a very small clearing. The clearing was still bleak, but not as wild and crooked as what he had travelled through. This place looked like it had been tended to, as if someone had taken great care to keep it that way. In the centre of this clearing, with a few healthy bushes surrounding it, stood an apple tree with ripe red apples lining its branches.
Gonff gazed in curiosity at the tree, and frowned. "Strange how a lone apple tree would grow in the middle of nowhere. It must belong to somebeast." He turned away to wallow in his self-pity again. "At least whoever owns that tree knows their way around here. Maybe if I wait for them to show up, I can ask for directions…but that could take hours!"
Suddenly he heard a funny noise and turned to see what it was. It was his own stomach moaning to be fed. Gonff patted his stomach. "Oh, I haven't eaten since midday!" he said in despair. "I haven't got anything…"
As he pondered over what to do next, his attention turned absent-mindedly back to the apple tree. Gonff stared at the apples for a moment. He felt even hungrier.
The apples were beckoning him over. "Eat us! Eat us! Don't leave us to waste!" they cried.
Gonff's mouth watered. His paws itched. A crafty expression formed on his face. Resistance was futile. There was no turning back now.
Gonff stealthily circled around the clearing over to the apple tree, leaving the sack of wine back where he had been sitting. Making sure no-one was watching, he crept out into the open and hid in one of the bushes that surrounded the apple tree. After he heard no sound of feet or voices, he leapt out and stood by the tree, his eyes wide with awe at the fruit. Gonff looked over his shoulder, once again making sure he was not being watched, and reached up. He plucked an apple from the nearest branch and took a large bite.
"Mmm, not bad," Gonff said to himself as he wiped his mouth. "Whoever owns these apples won't miss one…or five."
He took another bite and took a few other apples from the tree and pocketed them in his satchel. "These'll go down well at the feast," Gonff commented, his spirits lifting. As he picked and pocketed the apples, he whistled to himself, continuing the same tune he had been whistling when he was returning from the vermin camp. It didn't take long for him to be absorbed in taking apples.
"Hoo! Wha' d'yuh think yuh deein?"
Gonff jumped, startled, and immediately stopped singing. He quickly swallowed what he'd bitten from the apple and turned around slowly, hiding the rest of the apple behind his back in the process as to not bring suspicion. Upon turning, he caught sight of the creature that had shouted.
Not too far away, but not too close, there stood a gerbil. The gerbil had light-brown fur with tufts of white, and he stood with a straight posture. He looked a little younger than Gonff – perhaps by a few seasons or so, but they were about the same height. He held what looked like a reed tube in one paw and was readying a dart with the other as if preparing to aim at the mousethief. The gerbil wore a tunic similar to Gonff, but unlike Gonff's, the gerbil's was made of an unusual yellow material. Gonff had never seen a gerbil, but he instantly recognised this creature from his somewhat mouse-like features and the fur on his tail. The two creatures stared at each other, with no movement or speaking for a moment.
The gerbil was the first to break the silence. "Hoo! Are yuh lissnin or what?"
"Uh…" Gonff could only manage a weak grin and a wave. "…Hello?"
"Shuddup!" the gerbil snapped back. "Who are yuh? What yuh deein heea?"
Gonff backed away slowly. "…I would want to ask you the same questions too, matey, but unfortunately I must go. I've got other commitments…"
He turned to leave in a hurry, but the gerbil was too quick for him. Gonff heard a whooshing noise and something fly past him, and in an instant there was a dart embedded in the bark of a tree to his right.
"Yuh gannin neewhere, lad!" the gerbil shouted threateningly. Gonff was about to ask why someone would refer to him as 'lad' when they were younger than him, when the gerbil noticed the empty branches on the trees. "Wha' happened there?" he gasped. The gerbil turned back to Gonff. "Are yuh stealin' apples?"
"Me? Stealing?" Gonff laughed, trying to play a convincing act. "Oh no no no no no, I wasn't stealing any apples, mate. I was just passing by. What makes you suspect a kindly folks-mouse such as myself would steal apples?"
"Cuz Ah was heea a minute aga an' there weren't any missin' from it! Look! There's aboot ten gone! Wha' happened t' theuse apples then?"
Gonff thought for a moment. "Would you believe they were eaten inside out by worms? You should see them. They're bigger than the apples themselves. Gave me a fright, they did. I was shooing them away."
The gerbil gave him a funny look. "D'yuh tek uz fu' some kind o' idiot or summink?"
"Ah, but do you take me for a thief and a liar?" Gonff replied wittily. As he spoke, he folded his arms (while keeping the apple hidden in his paw) and grinned as if to say 'there; that told you!'
"Oh aye?" the gerbil mocked. "Then how d'yuh explain why aall th' apples on that side o' th' tree are gone, an' not th' ones on th' otha, eh?" The gerbil pointed at the branches of the tree with the tube – a risky thing to do, for he was leaving himself in a situation where the mouse could overpower him. "…Cuz it divint look like worms 'a ett th'm, that's fu' shooa!"
"What makes you think that? How can you be sure?"
The gerbil shook his head. "It's like pullin' teeth," he sighed to himself. "Cuz if it was worms," he explained, "they'd 'ave ett aall th' apples an' be all roond th' tree an' not in one spot. An' anyway, Ah geet checked heea jus' not long aga an' it looked fine then."
"How would you know so much about one apple tree?" asked Gonff.
"Oh haway lad!" shouted the gerbil. "Ha' yuh wundad why there's a tree growin' heea in th' first place? Yuh knaa, some beasts grow th'm as a hobby. D'ye?"
"Oh! This is your apple tree?" Gonff asked in realisation.
"Whey aye!" the gerbil replied, rolling his eyes. "Spent ages tendin' it, me. Planted it when Ah was a bairn."
There was another moment of the mouse and the gerbil staring silently at each other. The gerbil eyed Gonff as if studying him from head to foot. "Hmm," the gerbil said aloud, "yuh divint look like a threat…"
Gonff was taken aback by this. "Eh? A threat? You think I'm vermin?" he asked, stunned.
The gerbil laughed. "Aye, Ah thought so," he said to himself. He turned his attention back to the confused Gonff. "Nah, yuh fine. It's ahreet. Nay botha. Heea, yuh can help yuhself," he said, gesturing back to the apple tree.
Gonff looked back at the apple tree, and then back at the gerbil. He smiled meekly and took the apple from behind his back. "Well…thanks matey," he said.
But the gerbil wasn't listening. He was gazing up at the treetops, concentrating on something. "Wuh'd best get back t' my place," he said quietly, in an almost whispering voice. "Wuh've aahready made enough noise; Ah divint wan' wuh t' be noticed."
"Noticed?" Gonff asked. The feeling of being watched by many eyes returned to him.
"Aye," said the gerbil. "It's a dangerous place, this part o' th' forest. There's vermin ev'rywhere, especially recently. Yuh'll be safe wi' uz though. Come on."
The gerbil began to trudge away, and signalled to Gonff for him to follow as he vanished into the trees. Gonff watched the gerbil in curiosity before he went to catch up with him, taking the sack of wine and a couple more apples with him. He rushed noisily through the undergrowth and tripped over a tangled tree root, landing at the feet of the gerbil.
"Shhh!" the gerbil ordered. "Keep th' noise doon! Yuh waalkin' wi' yuh feet too heavily!"
"Well at least I'm not the one who threatens anybeast with darts when they're just passing by," Gonff grumbled as he dragged himself back up and regained his balance. Luckily, none of the wine bottles had smashed – he would have heard if any did.
They set off, with the gerbil leading the way. "Sorry aboot aall th' palaver back there, lad," the gerbil apologised. "Ah divint mean t' soun' aall nasty 'n' that t' yuh. Ah just needed t' make shooa yuh weren't vermin or owt."
"That's a quick change of heart…"
The gerbil stopped in his tracks. "Eh? Wha' was that yuh jus' said?"
"Oh nothing, nothing!" Gonff quickly replied. "It's understandable."
"Aye, ta," said the gerbil in agreement. He continued leading Gonff through the dreary woods. "Ah've got t' be on watch aall th' time. Ah neva really get visitas. Ah havint seen any good beasts roond heea fu' ages. Last one Ah saw was a good few seasons aga."
"What kind of creature?"
"Um…" Jeremy paused again to think for a moment. "…A mousemaid, Ah think…Ah cannit reememba 'a name though." He started walking again with Gonff in tow. After a short walk through the twisted forest, the gerbil stopped and pointed. "Heea it is."
Gonff stared in the direction the gerbil was pointing in. All he could see were even more trees and a steep hill with barely anything on it. "I don't see anything," he said in confusion. "Are you sure you haven't just walked in a circle, matey? That's what I would've done."
"Nah, lad. Look close-a."
Gonff squinted his eyes. He soon noticed a grass-covered door attached to the bottom of the hill, cleverly disguised into the foliage surrounding the hill base, and also a couple of cleverly disguised windows too with rocks or plants placed around them. He also noticed for the first time a small vegetable patch by the side of the hill. It dawned on Gonff that he had been staring at the house the whole time; the house was built inside the hill. If the gerbil hadn't have pointed it out, Gonff would never have noticed the house.
"Cleva, innit?" the gerbil smiled. "Nee-one can see it easily. Wuh famed fu' hidin' things, yuh knaa."
Gonff nodded inattentively. He was still staring at the camouflaged house. He had heard a couple of stories from moles of how gerbils lived in 'hidden dwellings' and this was exactly how he had imagined it.
"Wait heea a minute," said the gerbil, and he headed towards the house. Gonff watched as the gerbil opened the door and stepped in, and what sounded like a small commotion came from within. After a couple of seconds, the gerbil reappeared.
"Right lad, yuh can come in now." The gerbil noticed the anxious expression on his guest's face. "Is summink wrong? Come on, yuh cannit stay oot there. Trust uz."
After quickly considering what to do, Gonff shrugged and followed the gerbil into the house. Stepping foot inside, the first thing Gonff noticed was that the whole inside of the house was one room. The room was dark, but some candlelight and some sunlight seeping through the windows made sure it was not dark enough to not see anything. In the centre of the room was a small, plain, wooden table with two small, plain, wooden chairs. There were no carpets covering the wooden floorboards, save for a couple of small tattered rugs here and there. In one corner was a brass cooking pot with steam billowing from it. Leaning against one of the walls were messy stacks of old paper that looked like they would crush anybeast if they were to topple over. In another corner of the room was an old cupboard as plain as the table and chairs.
"This is where Ah live," the gerbil proclaimed. "Nice, innit? Its canny fu' me; Ah like it. D' ye?"
Gonff looked around him. "It's nice…small, but nice."
"Ta. Seein' 'ow wuh gettin' on so well, yuh can caall uz Jeremy. Speekin a-which, Ah divint knaa yeuh name."
"Well allow me to introduce myself," Gonff proclaimed proudly. "I am Gonff –"
"Pleased t' meet yuh, Gonff," Jeremy obliviously interrupted. He shook Gonff's paw. It was then when the gerbil noticed the sack Gonff was carrying over his shoulder. "Oh, divint worry aboot that," he said. "Jus' put it awer there." He pointed at the empty space beside the door. "Yuh can siddoon at th' table if yuh want. Yuh mus' be waarn oot."
"Thanks matey," said Gonff as he carefully lowered the sack onto the floor. "My shoulders felt like they were going to break."
"Nay botha, lad," said Jeremy. He watched as Gonff staggered over to the table and sat down. Jeremy put the pipe and darts on a shelf and moved over to the cooking pot and began stirring whatever was inside. "Ah'm makin' some vegible soup. Yuh ahreet wi' that, aren't yuh? Ah've got nowt else."
"Sure, matey." Gonff looked up. There was an upstairs area, linked to the main room by a ladder. He could clearly see what was up there because there were no walls separating upstairs from downstairs: "Hey," Gonff exclaimed, "there's two beds up there."
"Whey aye, lad. One fu' me, one fu' th' guest," Jeremy explained.
Gonff nodded and looked around. His eyes set upon the old cupboard in the corner.
"Like Ah said, yuh mus' be waarn oot. Yuh looked geet exhausted when Ah saw yuh back there. Yuh looked like yuh'd been wand'rin' roond fu' ages."
Gonff stood up and headed slowly towards the cupboard. Jeremy didn't look up from the cooking pot.
"So how'd yuh end up in this part o' th' woods?"
Jeremy looked up from the cooking pot and gasped in panic at the sight of Gonff about to open the cupboard. "Hoo! What yuh deein awer there?"
"Um…I needed to stretch my legs…"
"Gedaway from that thing!" Jeremy shouted.
"I just wanted to have a look, that's all."
"Aye, well what's in there's none o' yuh business! Yuh divint gan moochin' through otha beasts' possessions! Jus' siddoon an' keep still."
Gonff took another glance at the cupboard before sauntering back to the table. Jeremy handed him a slice of bread and some vegetable soup in a small wooden bowl. "If I didn't, I'd be out of a job," Gonff joked.
Jeremy sat down at the other side of the table, also with a small bowl of soup and a slice of bread. "D'yuh work, like?" he asked.
"Heh," Gonff sniggered. He dunked the bread in the soup bowl and took a spoonful. "I'm self-employed."
"What's yuh job?"
Gonff felt a hint of nervousness in his head. He would be fine with telling any beast, but considering his first encounter with Jeremy had not been on the best of terms, he improvised a riddle. "I am…a taker of many things, a craftsmouse in handiwork, a prince of the trade…"
"So yuh a thief," Jeremy interrupted bluntly.
"A thief? Well…'thief' is a very extreme word, matey. It could give the wrong impression," Gonff said in defence. After a few seconds however, he quietly said "yes" in reply.
"Aye, Ah thought so. So yuh still sayin' worms ett th' apples then, eh?" teased Jeremy, giving the mouse an innocent look of contempt. "Ah'd a' said yuh look like a musician."
"Well I –"
"Yuh divint look like a prince though."
Gonff felt somewhat offended at Jeremy's remark. "Eh? Well what's your job?"
Jeremy was silent for a moment, with a look on his face as if he was thinking of something to say. As he took a spoonful of soup, he eventually spoke. "Ah'm a suviva. Me job's t' live oot heea an' fend fu' meesel."
As he said this, Jeremy's face seemed to fall. Gonff didn't notice; he was now thinking to himself, wracking his brains over what he assumed this riddle meant. Eventually, he put his paws in the air in surrender. "I give up," he said. "It doesn't make sense, matey. I'm lost."
"Ah thought yuh were, lad. Yuh neva been roond heea before."
"No, not that! I mean with the riddle you said. It's a tricky one."
Jeremy's face fell even more. "Yuh divint geddit, d'yuh?"
"No. That's why I'm asking, mate. What's the answer?"
"It wasn't a riddle, lad."
Something about Jeremy's tone of voice and choice of words made Gonff pause himself from eating his soup. "It wasn't a riddle?" he repeated.
"Nah, lad. Ah'm not th' riddlin' type."
Gonff recollected what Jeremy had said. "So you're a survivor…a survivor of what?"
"Put it this way." Jeremy leant up to Gonff and spoke in an almost-whispering voice as if he wanted nobody else to hear. "Ah havint seen me own kind since Ah was a bairn."
"Your own kind?"
"Whey aye, lad," said Jeremy as he sat back in his seat properly. "Ah'm a gerbil. Not 'eard o' th'm before?"
"Of course I have. I mean I haven't heard of a gerbil living on their own and out in the woods like this," said Gonff as he finished the last of his soup. "How did you end up here?"
The look on Jeremy's face told Gonff he wasn't comfortable with this question. "It's a long story," Jeremy answered in voice.
"You don't look so good, matey," said Gonff, taking note of Jeremy's expression.
"If yuh knaa, yuh'll be feelin' nee good an' aall."
Gonff could tell that Jeremy wasn't comfortable at all. "If you don't want to tell," he said, "that's fine by me…"
"No! Ah need t' tell me story," he said, raising his voice a little. "Ah need t' geddit off me shouldas." He took a deep breath, almost as if he was hesitating, and he began.
"When Ah was a bairn, Ah used t' live oot in a glade like yuh said, wi' me Mam an' Dad – Ah had nee brothas or sistas. Me Mam an' Dad were th' kindest creechahs yuh'd a' eva met. Ah looked up t' th'm aall th' time, but Ah was really proud o' me Dad cuz 'e wasn't a fighta; him an' some o' th' otha gerbils were part-time miners – there was some moles lived neeaby, yuh see. Aall th' gerbils who lived in th' same glade as wuh were canny as owt. Wuh'd aall gan doon t' th' riva an' wuh'd catch fish t'getha. Yuh knaa th' apple tree back there? Ah planted it when Ah lived in th' glade. Wuh had loads o' apple trees – one each; it was a tradition. Wuh'd tek the apples when they were ripe, an' me Mam'd make these geet big apple pies fu' wuh. Happiest time o' me life."
"So what made you leave? Was it something to do with the apple pies?" Gonff joked.
Jeremy laughed faintly at Gonff's comment, but his eyes showed anguish. He stared into the soup bowl and he continued his story. "Nah, nowt t' dee wi' th' pies, lad. A few seasons afore Ah was fully grown, there was a vermin attack from th' west. It was roondaboot th' same time as that Great Sickness at Loamhedge, Ah think…Ah dinnah. It was rainin' and wuh put up resistance, but th' vermin were too strong. Me Mam hid uz in a secret hideaway undaneeth me hoose, but there was only room fu' one…an' Ah heard ev'rythin'…" His voice caught in his throat. "…Th' vermin took ev'rybeast in sight. Me family were teken…Ah neva seen th'm aggen."
Gonff just sat silently, listening to the tale. Normally a happy character with an uncontainable sense of humour, now he was solemn. "That's horrible," he said.
"Aye, yuh can say it was horrible, but unless yuh were there yuh have nee idea wha' it was like. Ah waited 'til th' vermin 'ad wen' away afore Ah crept oot t' see wha' was left."
"And what was left?"
"Nothin'…jus' nowt. They'd teken ev'rythin'. Aall Ah could see was th' leaves on th' ground, an' th' rain, cuz it was autumn. An' yuh knaa, if yuh'd seen it like that fu' th' first time, yuh'd a-thought nee-one'd eva lived there."
Jeremy paused for a moment, pondering over whether to continue. After his mind had finished conflicting, he said "Actually…th' vermin did leave summink behin'. Aall Ah could find was the apple trees, some o' wuh maps, an'…" Jeremy paused as if he didn't want to continue.
Jeremy once again leant over to Gonff and spoke in an almost-whispering voice. "…A little'un; a bairn; 'e was lyin' in th' grass, an' 'e looked only a few days ald. So," Jeremy continued, "Ah took me tree an' some o' th' maps an' th' young'un an' Ah legged it. Th' tree was only little back then so Ah could carry it wi' th' rest. Ah di'n't care if Ah ran into anyone, which Ah di'n't; Ah jus' had t' gedaway from th' glade. Ah thought th' vermin would return an' tek uz away 'n' aall. So wuh ended up heea, an' Ah lived heea eva since. Ah did the inside meesel an' foun' th' chairs an' things lyin' roond th' area. Yuh knaa why Ah took th' apple tree wi' uz?"
"No," said Gonff.
"Ah took it fu' two reasons. Ah thought if Ah took it an' replanted it, mebbees somebeast'd recognise it an' find uz. Me family an' th' otha gerbils Ah knew were only capshad; they coulda s'vived an' escaped. But now Ah've given up hope on th'm returnin'."
"What was the other reason?"
Jeremy's voice caught again in his throat. "Th' bairn was sick an' 'e needed feedin'. But winta came, an' Ah hoped an apple would grow…an' Ah feel like Ah'm cursed aall th' time…"
Gonff suddenly interrupted. "No, don't say that, matey!" he gasped. "You're not cursed. You're probably the finest gerbil I've met – in fact, you're the only gerbil I've met. Did you do all you could to save the babe?"
"Then don't blame yourself," Gonff comforted. "And you never know; your family and the rest of the gerbils might've escaped like you said. Don't give up hope on something that isn't impossible, mate. They might've gotten back to the glade you used to live at."
"Ah cannit gan back t' th' glade. Ah divint even reememba where th' glade was, so Ah'll neva knaa wha' became o' it."
Gonff thought back to what Jeremy had said not long before. "You said there was a river near the glade. Maybe if you remember any of the places nearby, I could help you get there."
Jeremy shook his head. "Ta, Gonff lad, but even if Ah knaa where it was, Ah just cannit gan back. It'd jus' be too much fu' uz. Ah've got geet too many sad things asseuciated wi' th' place. Ah dread t' think wha' th' vermin did t' me family. An' Ah divint even knaa wha' happened t' th' moles. Ah neva really saw th'm that much anyway."
Deep down inside, Gonff could feel Jeremy's sorrow. "You must get really lonely living here."
"Aye, sometimes," said Jeremy, "but Ah'm neva alone…in a way…" He looked upward to the ceiling in a trance.
"Of course you're never alone, matey, and that's the thing. Your family might not be here, but they're always there in some form. I'm an orphan myself…"
Jeremy broke from his trance. "Ye are?"
"Yep. But I never let that put me down. I always have my family in my heart, so they live on in a way."
"Ta, lad." Jeremy turned back to Gonff, his cheery expression having returned to his face. "So, where were yuh gannin then?" he asked, resuming his normal speaking voice from the quiet whispering he had used before.
"I'm returning to Redwall. I got lost, you see…"
"Redwaall? Th' abbey?" Jeremy asked, surprised. Gonff nodded in reply. "It's a canny distance from heea," said Jeremy.
"Yeah," said Gonff. "We're having a feast, and I went out to get some wine…" Gonff pointed to the sack of wine by the door.
"Is that wha' that is? Stolen, Ah bet," Jeremy grinned. "Ah di'n't knaa yuh were from Redwaall. That explains yuh size," he chortled. "Lots o' feasts, Ah heard. They'll dee anythin' t' have one, these abbeys."
"Hang on! How come you've heard of Redwall if you live in the middle of nowhere? Construction only finished a few seasons ago," asked Gonff.
Jeremy grinned. "Ev'ryone's heard o' Redwaall Abbey, yuh knaa. Even th' remotest o' folk."
Gonff's eyes lit up. "Do you know how I can get back to Redwall?"
"Whey aye, lad. Ah've got maps o' ev'rywhere. Ah've got a canny collection o' th'm, see?" Jeremy signalled with his soup spoon over to the messy stacks of old paper propped up against the wall. "Ah did a few o' th'm meesel. Yuh neva knaa when yuh gannin t' need t' find yuh way aroond. Th' rest are from th' glade. Kinda lucky th' vermin lef' th'm ahent… Jeremy gazed at the maps. "Ah've neva been there meesel…Is it nice?" he asked.
"Eh?" Gonff replied. "Oh, the soup! Yeah, matey, it was scrumptious."
"Nah, Ah mean Redwaall. Is it a nice place?"
Gonff was a little surprised. "Redwall…well I think it is," he said.
"Could yuh tell uz," Jeremy asked quietly. It was as if he were embarrassed to ask for such a request. "Aboot Redwaall?"
Gonff frowned. "But you already know about it, don't you?"
"Only heeasay," replied Jeremy. "Ah wan' t' heea aboot Redwaall from somebeast who actually comes from there, an' yuh th' first Redwaalla Ah've eva met. Please…"
"Well…" said Gonff, "…there's a lot to say. Where do you want me to begin?"
"Begin wi' ye."
"Well," Gonff began, "I live at Redwall Abbey, obviously, with my wife Columbine…"
"A wife…" Jeremy repeated. "D'yuh 'ave bairns?"
"Just the one. A son," Gonff proclaimed.
"Hmm," said Jeremy. "Ah bet 'e teks afta 'is dad."
"A little," Gonff chortled, "but there's all the other dibbuns too that play together and get up to mischief. Everybeast at Redwall gets along with each other. We're all great mates. There's creatures of all kind living there. We all have our own dormitories too, but the room we go the most is the Great Hall. It still amazes me whenever we go in there. The amount of work that was put into it…real dedication was put into building Redwall. I'm always proud to think I helped in its construction. You should see how brilliant the windows look when the sun shines through them. It's like a rainbow. And the food they make in the kitchens…wow! It's the finest I've ever tasted…no offence." (Gonff was referring to the vegetable soup) "Sometimes I like to go in there and steal some food, it's that nice."
Gonff looked over to Jeremy, and he could see the gerbil immersed in his description. The mousethief grinned and carried on. "There's also a pond too. The water's crystal clear and clean, so you can see all the fish swimming in it. And then there's the orchard. You should see it: there's every single colour you can imagine in there, and so many different fruits and vegetables growing, I've lost count. Especially in the summer; everything's in full bloom then, and when you're in the orchard you feel like you're at one with Mossflower itself. In the warmer months, we go outside and have picnics in there, and when winter comes, we stay indoors and tell stories during the cold nights. And all that's only scratching the surface."
He could have continued for hours, but describing the place only made Gonff even more homesick, so he skipped forward. "If you haven't seen Redwall, try to imagine looking at the most beautiful tapestry ever made, and the grandest castle, and the prettiest flower in all of Mossflower. Now put them together and double it, and double again, and that's Redwall. Vermin can try and overrun it all they might, but they'll never be able to conquer, and that's a fact that'll never be disproved. Anybeast who's tired or just happens to be passing by is welcome to come through its gates and visit. And even though it's newly built, I can look down the timeline and see Redwall standing for thousands of seasons – maybe forever."
After Gonff finished speaking, he took a deep breath and allowed his words to sink in for Jeremy. "What d'you think?" he asked eventually. "Sounds nice, doesn't it?"
As if the tables from their first encounter had been turned, it was now Jeremy who was silent, but it was not from alarm, but from awe. His eyes were shimmering in the candlelight. "It sounds…beautiful."
Gonff grinned. "I knew you'd like it, matey," he said. "I was hoping I wouldn't get too carried away. Sometimes I even amaze myself."
"Is it really that nice?" asked Jeremy.
"Yup!" Gonff nodded.
"An' ev'ry word yuh said was true?"
"Every word," Gonff repeated.
"Is it true th't that warrior lives there an' aall? Yuh knaa, th' one they say saved Mossflawa?"
"If you mean Martin, then yeah. Hey, I've got an idea!" Gonff suddenly exclaimed. "If you want, Jeremy mate, how about you come back to Redwall with me? We'd all be happy to let you stay, and it'll be safer than here."
Jeremy looked like he was considering the offer. "T' start afresh, t' gan somewhere safe, t' be wi' otha creechahs, t' not live unda feea o' bein' found oot and t' see th' little tykes runnin' roond an' heea th'm laugh…" He glanced over to the cupboard. Jeremy kept his eyes focused on the cupboard, and shook his head. "But…" he began, "…ta fu' th' offa, but Ah cannit go wi' yuh. Ah jus' cannit. Yuh wouldn' understand. Sorry."
"It's okay," said Gonff, "but just think about it, okay matey? You know the way." He looked out the window, and stood up from the chair. "Well, thanks for the meal, Jeremy mate. I must be going now. The sun's setting –"
"Th' sun's settin'?" Jeremy asked worriedly. He jumped out of his chair and looked up out of a window on the upper floor, and could clearly see the reddening sky. "Yuh reet, lad. Yuh'd best be off," he said in agreement. Jeremy led Gonff to the front door. "Yuh divin't wanna get lost in these woods when it's daark. It's espec'ally not safe at neet," he explained. "There's been more vermin than usual patreullin' roond heea fu' th' past week a-so."
The two stepped outside.
"What are they patrolling for?" asked Gonff.
"Ah dinnah! Summink aboot one o' the' mates gannin missin', Ah think." Jeremy sounded frantic. "But anyway, yuh betta 'ave this."
Jeremy handed Gonff a scroll of paper. Gonff opened it, revealing it to be one of the maps, with different coloured lines scrawled across it.
"These lines show th' safest paths roond heea. If yuh're gannin t' Redwaall, yuh need t' be on this one." Jeremy pointed the route out on the map. "Reememba t' stay on th' route marked doon. Yuh best bet is t' be safe when there's vermin mooching aboot."
"Are you sure, mate? The line goes all over the place here, and it goes around in circles there…"
"Aye, Ah'm shooa," Jeremy said urgently. He looked at Gonff eye-to-eye and placed a paw on his shoulder. "Ah knaa wuh got off t' a bad start, but Ah knaa yuh got good intentions. Trust uz, lad; Ah wouldn' wan' yuh endin' up deed."
Gonff looked in the direction marked on the map. Before he could say goodbye, he had to ask one last question. "Jeremy, what happened to the maid you said about earlier? Did she get out of here alive?"
"Aye, Ah give yuh me word. Sh' trav'lled oot o' heea alive an' well. Where sh' is now, Ah'll neva knaa. But can yuh dee summink fu' uz, Gonff?"
"When yuh get back t' Redwaall, Ah want yuh y' burn that map."
"Burn it?" asked Gonff. "What for?"
"Cuz yuh neva gonna return heea," Jeremy growled for the first time since their first meeting. "If anybeast asks where yuh been, jus' make up an excuse. Yuh t' tell neebeast aboot this place, reet? Cuz Ah'll knaa if yuh dee."
"Er, don't worry matey, I will – I mean, I won't," Gonff said nervously. He shook Jeremy's paw. "Well," he said, "I guess this is where we say our goodbyes. So long, Jeremy. And stay safe."
"Aye. Turrah t' yuh too, Gonff lad. An' be careful…An' ta for th' company…"
Gonff headed into the trees, following the pat marked on the map. He stopped to turn around and wave goodbye to the gerbil before he had vanished into the thicket. Jeremy waved back, and after Gonff was out of sight, Jeremy shook his head and sighed bitterly. He turned and trudged back into the house. He closed the door and leaned against it.
His mind began to taunt him. 'Oh, but you are cursed. Aye, you re-planted the apple tree in the autumn, but apples grew, didn't they? And now look where it's got you.' Jeremy ran a paw over his forehead in shame. He didn't feel like crying, but he had an empty feeling welling up inside him, the kind you get when you feel like you've sacrificed a vast opportunity.
A young voice came from the cupboard in the far corner – the cupboard Gonff had been curious about earlier. "Is 'e gone? Can I come out yet, uncle?"
Jeremy sighed again. "Aye, Jird. Yuh can come oot, but be quiet," he said wearily.
The cupboard opened, and out stepped a rat. This rat was grey, suggesting he was from the northlands, but unlike the rats that had threatened Mossflower's existence for so long, this rat looked somehow different…he had the kind of look in his features that spelt 'kind and honest' and not 'hateful and filthy'. He still clearly had awhile before he would be fully grown, due to him being shorter than Jeremy and because of his young voice.
"Oh, I'm glad ter be out a' there, uncle. I don't like hidin' in th' cubboard. It's too dark an' cramped."
"If yuh stay in there geet longa, yuh migh' turn into a flyin' mouse," Jeremy joked.
The young rat, whose name was Jird, giggled at this. "Yeah," he said, "but I don't like havin' ter hides every time somebeast's 'ere. I was in there so long I thought yer forgot about me."
"Nah lad, Ah wouldn' f'get."
"Speakin' a' mice, that mouse sounded friendly," the young rat commented. "I wish 'e'd seen th' both a' us. Two gerbils – wouldn't 'e 'ave been surprised?"
"Mice are norm'ly canny," was all Jeremy could say. He was avoiding the question.
"The mouse ask'd if we'd go ter Redwall. Why can't we go? It sounds nice an' all. Peaceful. Lotsa company. Lotsa stories. No vermin…"
"Aye, Ah knaa, but yuh…" Jeremy looked into the inquisitive eyes of the young rat. "…Yuh wouldn' understand, lad. Yuh haff t' keep hidden. Yuh were seen by some vermin las' week, reememba? Yuh cannit gan dawdlin' roond on yuh own in th' open. It's not safe."
"Yeah, but they won't see me again; I promise," the rat said with an innocent voice. "I've been meaning t' ask, uncle: is that why there's been loads more a' 'em round 'ere lately? 'Cos they saw me?"
Jeremy thought about what he had told Gonff. "Ah dinnah, but it could be, lad. Unfortunitly, Ah cannit see th'm gannin away anytime soon."
"Ye won't let th' vermin take me, will yer?"
It hurt Jeremy's heart for the young rat to say that. Like with Gonff, he placed a hand on the rat's shoulder. "Aye, Jird. Ah've told yuh before: Ah promise yuh Ah'll neva let th' vermin tek yuh away from uz."
The rat rushed up to Jeremy and hugged him. "Ye th' best uncle in th' world, yer know."
In Jeremy's head, his thoughts were speaking to him all at once. 'Why was he left with you? Look at what you've done. You've broken the ways of life. There aren't meant to be exceptions. But it's something worth living for, isn't it?'
"Aye, it is," Jeremy whispered to himself. As the rat held onto him, Jeremy patted him on the head. "Ta, lad," he said sympathetically.
Bloody hell, Jeremy's had a miserable life, hasn't he? I hope you can put all the parts of the story together to get what happened. By the way, the young rat's name, Jird, is the name given to the genus of rodents that include gerbils. And when Jeremy said "flyin' mouse", of course he's referring to a bat. With the maid Jeremy mentions who visited a long time ago, I bet most readers will think it was 'you-know-who-I-mean'. If that's what you want to believe, that's fine by me, but she could be anybeast; I left the maid's identity vague so you can make your own mind up over who she was.
I've tried to explain the characters' ages through their descriptions, but if you're still not sure…well, let's say Gonff is in his late 20s/early 30s (I'm not saying that's a fact; just suppose he is). Jeremy would be somewhere in his early/mid 20s, and Jird would be…well, a kid.
I got the idea of gerbils being diggers/hiders and enjoying company from watching my own pet gerbils. If you didn't recognise the accent Jeremy speaks with, it's a Geordie accent (it's local to the Tyneside area of northeast England. It's also my own accent, though mine is nowhere near as strong as Jeremy's). So in this version of Redwall, there are gerbils who speak with Geordie accents and have those blowpipe things for weaponry. I should point out that unless you're familiar with the Geordie accent, it's pretty difficult to decipher; if you're having trouble understanding it, try and read it aloud like I said at the beginning. If you're still having trouble, either look it up in an online dictionary or ask me. You really need to hear it to get an idea of what it sounds like.
At the time of writing, I've only written this as a one-shot. I'm not sure if I'll continue it, and I have no idea how I would continue it (I'm the type of fanfic writer who tends to post things once they're completed). But we'll see.
Last but hands down 1000000% certainly not least, R.I.P. Brian Jacques :_( a brilliant author, a big and important part of my childhood (and countless others) and a genuinely funny guy.