"Where has grandpa gone, papa?"
"To Salamandastron, the peak of the fire lizard," said Boar the Fighter. "It is the mountain of the badger lords, and it looks ever out to sea, the first defense against foes from the water. One day I will follow your grandfather there."
"And I will follow you?"
Boar looked down at Bella, his Bella, as gentle as a spring rain and as warm as a sunbeam, and he lied.
"Only male badgers go to the mountain," he said. "But that is a long time away, yet," he added, seeing a child's disappointment flit over his daughter's features. "Would you like to help me build the woodpile?"
"Of course, papa!"
After his father died, Boar saw many strange things in dreams. They had never been so vivid as they were when he slept in Salamandastron, and the ones he had dozing by the forge were deeper still, deep enough to drown in. The forge was close to the hall where someone had inscribed the futures of all who ruled the mountain.
Spearlady Gorse and The Yellow Rose appeared to him one night, as tall as oaks with dark starlight glinting off their spears and their dead eyes, and he felt a primal terror, as one does facing broken crockery with his mother's broad shadow falling over him.
"She is called," Gorse said to him.
"She is not a creature of war!"
"She will know war," The Yellow Rose said.
"War comes, war will come, war has come," the Spearlady said. "You will not save her or anyone else by not preparing them."
Fire and sword, blood and bloodwrath came to Boar in the dream and he wept, thinking of gentle children hewn down by greedy strife and needless conflict.
Bella felt it in the spring, usually, when her claws tickled with the thawing earth and the smell of snowdrops. She dreamed of the mountain crowned in fire with the ocean glittering beyond, and at its feet were the dead.
Badger Lords and Ladies clad in armor: plate and mail, sharkskin and dragonbone, wielding greatswords and halberds, clubs studded with arrowheads and giant's teeth, and all around them were their armies—faithful hares and squirrels, shrews and otters, mercenary foxes on the wrong side for gold.
And eternally they battled those thrown up by the sea, pirates and warlords and cannibal armies out of swamps and hellholes that could not resist the challenge of the spire, that could not simply sail north or south or to unknown westerlands.
It filled her with horror, most times, but now and then she was down there among them, holding weapons she could not see clearly, the taste of blood in her mouth and sweat in her eyes, and she awoke in terror, even later with her mate beside her and a babe in the basket at the foot of the bed.
"Only male badgers go to Salamandastron," she told herself more than once, gently chiding, as one would a child.
She repeated it as she watched the harvest and blackberrying in the autumn, and then more desperately, a talisman, whispered as the spring came and the wildcat warlord did too.
And then her mate died and her cub was lost, and the call faded.
Bella translated the badger script of the poem, rhymed in common and obfuscated with the runes, and her claws itched. She thought of her father, gruff and bearded, as like to push her away as to gather her up in his arms, and more and more the former as she grew older and he distant, until he left at last.
She looked at her claws, normal-sized, she thought, and yet impossibly giant to those whom she shared her home with, whom she protected. A voice told her she could solve it all by creeping into Kotir and crushing Tsarmina to death, and she snorted.
Yes, as quiet as a mouse she'd be, she thought, cocking an ear at the tumult of Gonff and Martin jesting in the hall. A pincushion, more like, as soon as Kotir sentries heard her booming steps.
But the thought nagged at her, even when they set Martin and his companions on the path to the mountain.
"Only male badgers go to Salamandastron," she said, and she sounded less certain.
She found her eyes resting on cooking knives and wood axes uneasily, and slept plagued by dreams of violence and fire until they came.
She felt as if she was in a sickroom, and all around her were badger-sows, mothers and grandmothers and aunts, matrons as ferocious as warlords and with a better grasp of politics. And some of them had aprons of homespun, but there were leather aprons scarred by fire and molten metal, and helms of bone or steel, and spiked pauldrons impaled with trophies.
"Not all who are called set paw on the path," said one gently, tucking in her knitted quilts. She was wreathed in brambles and crowned with thorns where the ghosts of roses were blooming. "One lord of the mountain there is. Only one lord is needed. There will be others."
She wept in the dream. "I could have gone, I could have returned—"
Another sow, standing guard with a spear, under the starlight of eternity. "The book of the past is written," she said, "but of the future we have only glimpses; and even what is written in stone may fall away. Rest, now, Bella of Brockhall. Here you are needed."
Martin told her everything of the journey, and she set pen to paper, recording what must not be forgotten. There would be others, and the mountain would call. It was all she could do.
(Bella had saved Martin's life with a badger's stamina and a badger's strength; she could do more than she gave herself credit for.)
And, much later, after all the stone had been quarried and the walls raised, she made copies of the account for the new red-walled abbey's libraries. The shelves were stacked mainly with hope and promises now, so someone had to fill them.
Bella spent many days writing by sunlight and candlelight in service of that hope as the abbey was polished around her, basements and sub-basements stocked with wines and preserved food, carpets woven, stained glasses traded for and brought north by cunning bright-eyed artisans all half-mad from their poisonous pigments.
And she told her tales, histories and rhymes and teaching-songs and memory-verse, to hundreds of children. And they remembered. Badger lords gave up everything to defend their shores at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain—dragon's lair, firemount, serpent's haunt—it called to them and their armies and it ate them.
Time would eat her, too, and it would eat steel, eat paper, eat memory. But perhaps they could stay ahead of it, just ahead. A young mouse swept by, intent on some errand, humming one of Gonff's songs composed for the children's school.
Only warlords went to the mountain. Scribes stayed. And sometimes a pen could cut deeper than a sword, and ink last longer than blood.
The book of the past was written. Well, who had written it?
Salamandastron, the peak of the fire lizard. The mountain of Badger Lords and Ladies.
There would be others.
Notes: In which I take a crack at a mistake/retcon/character error in Brian Jacques' "Mossflower"; Bella tells Martin the Warrior that only male badgers go to Salamandastron, but Spearlady Gorse is in the list of Lords that Boar the Fighter later recounts.