Author: Highwing PM
A day in the life of three earnest young students ... but all is not as it appears.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 3,578 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 2 - Published: 07-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8285421
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The worst part of school, everybeast agreed, was having to get up so early every morning.
Each day started the same: Padla, the gruff overseer of the dormitories, would stalk along at the foot of the beds, taking unbridled delight in shattering youthful slumbers with the tremendous clanging of two old iron pans clashed repeatedly together. This sadistic ritual was bad enough at any time, but to be roused in such a manner in the depths of winter, before the sun had even risen, was almost more than a youngbeast could stand.
Kincy and Trisko, two friends who shared adjacent beds, sat up pawing the sleep from their eyes as they greeted each other with their usual routine of exchanging nicknames.
"Mornin', Mouse," Trisko yawned.
"Mornin', Otter," Kincy grumbled, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. "Yeagh! I hate cold stone against my footpaws first thing when I wake up!"
Trisko gave his rodent friend a scornful look. "You always say that. Why don'tcha just wear sandals?"
"Sandals?" Kincy made a face. "Hate them worse than I hate cold stone floors. Not natural, those bindings 'tween your toes and stiff soles floppin' with each step. You're so lucky you got fur on your feet."
"Don't I know it." Trisko's muzzle wrinkled as he sniffed approvingly at the breakfast aromas wafting up from the kitchens. "Mmmm ... but that smell almost makes early rising worth it!"
"Oh, yeah," Kincy agreed, hopping from one foot to another as he reached for his habit. "Smells like pancakes today. With raspberry jam, I hope!"
"I'd go fer honeyed maplecream m'self," said Trisko.
"Maybe they'll have both. Friar Feerick's been in a good mood lately. One can always hope!"
Shrugging into their habits, the two friends joined their male classmates in line for the wash basins. Every morning, the dormitory attendants would deliver steaming buckets of hot water for the newly-risen students to wash up. It was woe to anybeast who showed up for breakfast without a fresh face and clean paws.
On their way down the stairs to the great hall, Kincy and Trisko ran into Vodola, another close friend of theirs. Vodola flashed her green-gold eyes and switched her bushy tail as she fell into step alongside them.
"Morning, uglyheads!" she grinned at them.
"Mornin', princess!" Trisko grinned back; he and Kincy had annointed her with that title because of her constant superior attitude. Kincy just grunted at her.
Vodola playfully nudged Trisko. "What's bothering his backside today?"
"Cold feet, same's always!"
"Tell him to put on some sandals then."
"He hates sandals, you know that."
"Oh, so maybe he'd like a nice warm pair of fuzzy slippers." She leaned into her rodent friend and cooed, "Would Kincy-wincy like Mommy to get him a nice pair of fuzzy-wuzzy slippers?"
"Aw, go climb a tree, you bushtailed nuisance!"
"Huh. How anybeast could be such a grump with those delicious smells filling the air is beyond me. Mmm, my mouth's already watering! Race you two down to great hall!" With that, Vodola sped off, her bright red tail flashing at them from under her green robes.
Trisko watched her disappear down the steps. "She's sweet fer you, y'know."
"Is too. Ain'tcher ever noticed 'ow she's always battin' those big green eyes at you every chance she gets?"
"But ... but I'm a ... and she's a ... " Kincy stammered, flustered by the idea of their female schoolmate thinking of him in that light.
"Yeah, you don't hafta tell me - yer a big ugly mouse an' she's a beautiful princess squirrel wannabe. But when romantic notions get inta a maiden's noggin - watch out!"
Kincy realized Trisko was just pulling his leg. At least he hoped that's all it was. "Aw, you got it all wrong, Otter. You're the one she's making eyes at!"
"Who, me? Naw! She'd never go fer a scruffy lunk like me. I'm too rough around the edges fer th' likes of her."
"Oh, yeah? Well, she's as like to be smitten with you as with me. Tell you what - let's see which one of us she chooses to sit by at breakfast. Then we'll see who she's sweet on!"
The breakfast seating arrangements did little to settle the matter, since Vodola nestled onto the long bench right between her two male friends. But with white-wheat pancakes and sweet jams and syrups like those served that morning, all romantic thoughts were thrust aside.
"Mmm, scrummy!" Kincy sighed between mouthfuls. "Really does make it almost worth being tossed outta bed before sunrise."
"And sittin' through Proctor Erkan's boring classes!" added Trisko.
"Actually," said Vodola, "I heard today's lesson is going to be about the history of Redwall."
"Oh, bother with all that stuffy history stuff," Kincy complained.
Vodola glanced at him. "Even if it's about the sword of Martin?"
This made the two malebeasts sit up straighter. There wasn't a student to be found who didn't relish hearing all about the legendary mouse Warrior who'd founded Redwall Abbey, or the equally legendary sword he'd wielded, supposedly forged by a Badger Lord from metal that came from the stars.
"Well, if'n it's about THAT," Trisko relented, "then all right. But that ain't really history - not th' boring kind, anyways. That's more like a good tale."
Kincy nodded agreement. "Yeah, I like it when Proctor Erkan talks about the Warriors of Redwall, and all their battles with the vermin hordes. That's fun to hear about."
"'cept fer the endings, with all them vermin gettin' killed." Trisko grimaced. "I always hate hearin' 'bout so many creatures gettin' slaughtered."
"That's war," Vodola said matter-of-factly. "If you're gonna start something you're not up to finishing, you deserve whatever you get. That's why Redwall's never fallen to an enemy. Why, Trisky? I never figured you for the squeamish type."
"Yeah," Kincy jibed, "whaddya think you've been taking all that javelin training for? Parade practice?"
"I know, I know," Trisko shrugged. "If'n I ever hafta go inta battle, I don't doubt I'll pull my weight. I just don't like thinking 'bout it, is all."
Finishing their breakfasts, all of the school-aged youngsters trooped upstairs to Proctor Erkan's classroom. The grizzled scholar sat at the front of the room, snout buried in a musty old journal. He might as well have been made of stone for all the attention he paid the students who filed past his desk and took their assigned seats. There was no laughing, joking or rough-housing here; Erkan was a stern taskmaster who tolerated no misbehavior in his lectures ... and who meted out harsh punishments to those who disrupted his presentations.
When everybeast was settled, Erkan closed his book and took a few silent moments to collect his thoughts, just as he did every morning. The instructor had his little routines, but far from becoming tiresome, his idiosyncratic rituals provided a more comfortable atmosphere that helped his students learn better.
The teacher rested his chin upon his steepled paws, his sharp gaze traveling around the room. "Before we commence with today's lesson, does anybeast have anything they'd like to share?"
This was another of Erkan's habits; before getting down to the cut-and-dried lectures and the sometimes terrifying question-and-answer bouts to which he subjected his captive audience, he would always allow for a more relaxing prelude, to ease his pupils into the day much as Friar Feerick's delicious breakfasts softened the blow of early rousings. During these brief lulls, the calm before the storm as it were, students were encouraged to share anything they wished with their classmates, whether it was a joke or a story or just idle thoughts and ruminations. A few of the more daring youngbeasts might even recite poetry they'd composed, at the risk of serious after-class ribbing from their peers. What was said during this time didn't have to have anything to do with the day's lesson - and that was the whole point.
Trisko's cousin Boodram raised his paw hesitantly. Proctor Erkan's hawklike gaze went to him, and he casually pointed at the youngster. "Yes, Boodram?"
Self-consciously Boodram got to his feet, as was required of any student who wished to address the class. "Had a dream last night," he muttered.
"A dream, you say?" Erkan pounced. "Well, fine. Tell us all about it ... but if you don't speak up, we won't be able to hear you. Be bold, Boodram!"
Boodram started over, more loudly this time. "Like I said, I had a dream. It was inna field, all sunny 'n' green 'n' peaceful like. Martin the Warrior was there, only it wasn't really him ... he was a mouse, but he wasn't, really ... an' he was carrying his sword, 'cept it was more like a spear - "
"Make up yer mind, Boody!" came a derisive snigger from the back row. Scattered snickers were heard all around.
"Hey, it was just a dream!" Boodram snapped back defensively. "It don't hafta make sense!"
"No, it doesn't," Proctor Erkan assured him. "Thank you for sharing that with us, Boodram. You may sit down now."
Boodram sat, greatly mollified that the teacher had come to his defense. The smattering of laughter rapidly subsided; the instructor clearly did not share their levity.
"At Redwall ... " Erkan started to say, but then trailed off as his gaze wandered to the window. Since all that was visible beyond was the empty winter sky of slate gray, it was obvious that the teacher's mind had wandered far afield, as it so often did these days.
Erkan blinked, and returned his attention to his class. "At Redwall, great importance is attached to dreams of Martin the Warrior, for Martin often speaks to the goodbeasts of Redwall in times of need. Now, I'm not saying that Martin was trying to speak to Boodram here, but the lesson we must learn is not to dismiss dreams as inconsequential. Even if we are not visited by ghosts in our sleep, dreams are often the mind's way of solving things in its own way. It has happened to me, and probably to most of you too. Problems and puzzles that confound me when I concentrate too hard on them will magically unfold when I let my mind relax and go where it will. Inspiration can often come to us in our dreams. Never forget that."
Erkan arose and came around from behind his desk. "I think it's time to review some of the basics. Not just for this class, but everything to do with your schooling here. The Redwall way is not something that you can know just from books and lectures. It must be lived, morning, noon and night. It is about creatures treating each other with respect, helping each other instead of competing against each other, and placing the needs of Redwall before their own wants and desires. These qualities might seem a weakness in the eyes of vermin invaders, but it is this selfless devotion and total dedication to their home, to their ideals, and to each other that has allowed Redwall to stand against all comers for so many generations."
Erkan paused for dramatic effect, as he so often did.
"And that," he finally resumed, "is what makes the Redwallers different from us."
Erkan's unblinking gaze traveled slowly around the room. Every one of his vermin students - every young rat, fox, weasel, ferret and stoat - paid him their undivided attention now. The gray-streaked instructor marten began pacing back and forth in front of his pupils as he went into lecture mode.
"This academy is our answer to Redwall. Our founder, Lord Maulseed, modeled it after that infamous Abbey. We have our own great hall, our own cavern meeting area, our own dormitories and kitchens and infirmary, all just like Redwall. We even have our own pond and gardens and orchard, for every fortress and safe haven knows the value of being self-sufficient when under siege. Of course," he chuckled, " we have a few rooms and chambers unique to our facility, but then your curriculum is different from what Redwall youngsters are taught. But like them you wear novice habits, you attend classes, you are assigned chores, you are kept well fed - truly, I see before me some of the most well-fed vermin who have surely ever lived! Your beds are comfortable, your rooms kept clean, your clothes laundered regularly, your dishes washed for you after every meal.
"But don't think you are being pampered without purpose. This academy was not built to turn out mere robbers and ruffians - those are an acorn a pawful. You are being lavished with special training, and that is why you receive special attention. Your physical exercises will make you superb fighters, true - but your mental training will let you become more, much more. Strategists and tacticians, unstoppable assassins, crafty and resourceful spies, generals ... perhaps there is even a future emperor sitting in this very room! Perhaps even - dare I hope? - the very one who will finally bring Redwall down and deliver it into our paws."
Erkan ceased his energetic pacing and leaned back against his desk. "We have tried to take some of what is best about Redwall and adapt it to our needs. What is it about this simple community of peaceful woodlanders that enables them to withstand repeated attempts to conquer them? It cannot be just the bricks and stones and mortar that make up their defenses; if that's all it were, Redwall would have fallen long ago. We can only conclude that it must be something about the Redwallers themselves, and their way of life, which makes them all but invulnerable to outside attacks. And so we have adopted some of their customs, to see whether vermin schooled in the Redwall lifestyle might have a better chance of succeeding where so many before have failed. If we can learn the Redwallers' secret, maybe we can use that against them, and defeat them at last."
A look of satisfied pride lit up the aged marten's features as he surveyed his charges. "I see before me the finest group of vermin that an old teacher could ever hope to have. No, I won't even call you vermin; you are more than that. You are being taught to use your minds and develop your skills to a higher level than has ever been attained by your various species before. And because of this, you are learning to respect yourselves and your classmates .. and a beast who respects itself can do more and go farther than one who doesn't. You will all leave here believing in yourselves, and that confidence can be a greater weapon than any blade or shield. Perhaps that faith in themselves is what has enabled the Redwallers to stand against us for so many generations, but now you will have it too. If that is their secret, you now have the answer to it. By becoming more like them, you will know them better ... and that will let you defeat them."
Erkan rubbed his paws together. "And now to test these abilities of yours that everybeast here is working so hard to instill upon you. Time for another pop quiz."
The classroom filled with groans. Proctor Erkan was famous for his spur-of-the-moment, surprise verbal tests. And although the students invariably did well at them, they were still an event no youngbeast relished.
"Boodram, since you were nice enough to share your dream with us, I'll start you off with an easy one. You're facing an opponent in unarmed, paw-to-paw combat. What's the first thing you try to do?"
The young weasel swallowed nervously. Yes, it was an easy question. But even easy questions could become nerve-wracking under the intense, expectant scrutiny of Proctor Erkan.
"Um ... a sideways, lateral kick to the knee. Try 'n' break their leg an' cripple 'em right off."
"Excellent." The teacher marten's predatory gaze roved the room. "Kincy. What's the one article of clothing you should never be without?"
The young rat grinned; he'd gotten an easy one too! "A thin belt or waistcord, sir."
"And why is that?"
"So you can use it as a noose or garrote, in a pinch."
"Exactly right. Trisko - you're walking through woods and don't wish to leave tracks. What do you do?"
Trisko the weasel straightened; this was a tougher one. "Um, well, if th' trees was close enuff t'gether, I'd either climb up inta them an' make my way branch to branch, or else I'd step only on the exposed roots."
"And if the trees are too far apart for that?"
"Oh, er, I'd tie tufts o' grass 'n' weeds on my footpaws, so's I don't leave clear prints."
"Good enough. You could also tie them onto your tail and brush the ground behind you as you go. And always remember to avail yourself of any brooks or creeks that are close at paw. There's no surer way of erasing your tracks than running water."
Erkan's roaming eyes settled upon the comely vixen in the third row. "Vodola, here's one that should be right up your ally. You need to kill a beast, in public, and you decide to use a poison that's absorbed through the skin. How can you handle it safely without calling attention to yourself?"
The prim foxmaid smiled. Yes, this was up her ally; her specialty was poisons and assassination.
"I'd coat my pawtips with beeswax, dyed the same color as my fur so as to be unobtrusive. That way I could handle the posion without risk to myself, and dispense it at my leisure when the best opportunity presented itself."
"Ah, you do know your stuff, Vodola! Excellent, excellent ... "
And so it went, around the room, until every studentbeast had answered at least one question. All the best and approved ways to kill an opponent, with and without weapons; how to escape from various precarious situations; how to elude detection or pursuit; and many basic military, strategic and tactical questions as well. The pace was breathless, and the pupils were universally relieved when the quiz was over and Erkan relaxed into his standard lecturing. After the adrenaline-pumping, pulse-quickening round of questioning, nobeast was likely to fall asleep during his lesson.
Class let out an hour before lunchtime, and the schoolbeasts filed out into the hall, heads filled with imagery of Martin the Warrior and all the other Redwall champions who'd followed in his pawsteps, and how they might someday be defeated. There would be a period of fighting exercises before the midday meal was served; no student at Maulseed Academy would sit down to lunch without being made to work up a healthy appetite first.
The drillmaster awaited them down in the great hall, and promptly ushered them out into the courtyard. Many grumbles and groans greeted this development, not least of all from the three friends who lagged behind at the back of the group.
"Why can't we do our drills down in the cavern hole?" Kincy groused. "There's plenty of room if you push all the tables to the walls. Why do we hafta go outside? It's the middle of winter!"
"Warriors fight when and where they have to," said Vodola, always the practical-minded one. "Battles take place in every season and in all kinds of weather, Kince. What, you're gonna take off from a war 'cos your tootsies might get a little cold?" She glanced down at all of their unshod footpaws. "Just be thankful there's no snow on the ground, 'cos Drillmaster Mogar would just as soon send us out in a blizzard as on a sunny spring morn."
The glowering ferret instructor in question scowled at the trio of dawdlers as he stood by the open door. "C'mon, you three lazybeasts, stir yer stumps! Or I'll make sure you get shortswords, an' match you up against longswords!"
Kincy, Trisko and Vodola instantly picked up their pace. It was not at all uncommon for students to suffer all manner of cuts, scrapes and bruises during drilling ... and it was not unheard of for more serious injuries to occur as well, especially to students who got on Mogar's bad side. The ferret would not hesitate to carry out his threat.
Life could be hard at Maulseed Academy, in spite of the comfortable beds, good meals and friendships here.
Trisko slapped Kincy on the shoulder. "Race ya out there, Mouse!"
"Eat my dust, Otter! An' let's show this squirrel princess how fast we malebeasts can move!"
Vodola easily paced them. "Ha! I'll leave you two lugs way behind me!"
Laughing and puffing, Kincy the rat, Trisko the weasel and Vodola the vixen raced outside into the cold winter morning.