Prequel to Twilight Thief- thanks to everyone who reviewed it, I love you all!
Gonff remembers, in a series of recollections from 'Mossflower', containing spoilers. I was going to include 'The Legend of Luke' as well, but it would have been too long and ungainly if I had- sorry!
Disclaimer- I do not own Redwall
My name is Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves. Today my world fell apart.
My best friend Martin, the greatest mouse I have ever known, is dead. He has left me to grow even more ancient alone in this world.
No, that is not true. I still have Trimp, Bella, my Gonflet and my precious grandchildren. But my other companions- Dinny, Log a Log Furmo, Skipper- and Columbine, the love of my life, have all left to travel the road to the Dark Forest.
I am old now. I have seen many seasons pass, seen many youngsters grow from the tiniest Dibbuns to the strongest warriors and have little ones of their own. I have seen so many moons wax and wane, so many turns and cycles of the sun. I have seen tyrants fall and good creatures prosper. And I have seen Redwall Abbey being born, flourishing under the gentle care of its creatures, seen the founding of the order. I have seen so much. There is now only one journey left for me. And I will take it alone.
I do not fear death. I think, perhaps, that I once did- when I was young and strong and happy and the world was mine for the taking. When I was carefree and stupid enough to be captured by a wildcat's guards and lucky enough to meet a fellow captive, a mouse whose body was gaunt and haggard from his winter imprisonment, but whose spirit burned brighter than a midwinter star. I do not think, Martin, that you ever feared Death. I can still remember that first meeting as sharp and clear as if it happened only a few short seasons ago…(flashback)
After being thrown into that cell and having a remarkably soft landing, consider my surprise when strong paws grabbed me and yanked me into the patch of weak sunlight from the cell window. I winked at my unseen cellmate and played a silly little tune to ease the mood. It worked. By the time I had finished my song, my eyes had adjusted to the glare, and I could see my tall companion shaking his head and chuckling. He was thin through starvation but his muscles weren't wasted and he was a strong, stocky beast. His eyes were deep, full of mysterious fire, but his gaze was firm and honest and I instinctively felt safe in his company.
"Silly, how could the grandfather of a hundred-year-old mouse say anything? Sorry, my name's Martin the Warrior. What's yours?" Just as I thought- his voice was as firm and confident as his manner. It had a melodious tone and the barest hint of a northern accent dancing about its edges."Martin the Warrior, eh?" that title, so carelessly dropped into the conversation, gave me a small glimmer of hope. A warriormouse, at last! "By gum, Martin, you're a fine, strong-looking fellow, even though you could do with a little fattening up. My name's Gonff the Thief, or Prince of Mousethieves to you, matey." My reply was cheeky, but my new friend didn't seem to mind. He was quick to take my offered paw.
I can still remember that iron grip to this day. I was not jesting when I said you were squeezing my paw to bits. I can also remember that desperate hope in your voice when I told you of my lock-picking skills. My dear friend, that imprisonment weighed heavy upon your roving soul, did it not? And to think, it took only a Prince of Thieves and a piece of wire to bring your surging river-rapid warrior's spirit to the fore.
Oh Martin, 'twas not the only time I saw that flame, that life, that spirit. No, there were many times, my dear friend. So many times we defended each other, on the road, off the road, in halls and caves, through forests and up mountains. You the warrior, I the trickster. You the fighter, I the thief, the mimic, the charmer. We relied upon each other, did we not? We were two whom death could not touch. But you thought it had once.(flashback)
I was filthy. Swamp mud was trapped in my fur, under my fur, under my claws, behind my ears. I had been in a pit of muddy water for days with only a few swamp toads and an eel for company. And I had no way of knowing whether my three friends were alive. I hoped they were. I prayed they were. But they had fallen over that raging waterfall as I had, and I had not seen a sign of any of them. When the marsh toad king questioned me, I had spoken with bravado, cheeky and impetuous, as my nature demanded. But my heart throbbed with that most cruel of aches- where were they? Where were they?
It did not help that my stomach was biting with a fierce, gnawing hunger. No edible roots or vegetation could be reached from my precarious perch on the slippery walls, and I couldn't very well beg food off the toads. I felt desolate, alone and miserable. I couldn't even trill a tune on my reed flute to keep me company- it was clogged with mud and impossible to clean. My thick jerkin had not protected it.
At least I had light- a discarded lantern and a few stupid fireflies provided it for me. It made me feel somewhat more cheerful- I wasn't given to dark moods- but still…I was alone.
I heard a commotion outside the Screamhole. The toads were kicking up a fuss, croaking and warbling. I heard angry, indignant shouts, the voices indistinct, and Marsh-Bottom's voice, gabbling something about Snakefish eating. So, I was to have new companions. At least it would break the monotony. I began to feel around on my perch, searching for a strong vine- they wouldn't want to stay in that foetid water. There was great splash as they landed, and then one of them spoke.
"Yurr, wot be that?" An incredulous smile broke across my face. I had never thought molespeech could sound so sweet. It was Dinny's voice.
I cupped a paw around my mouth and called down, "Don't hang about down there, matey. Here, reach up and I'll give you a lift."
My little light illuminated the three faces, all as disbelieving and ecstatic as mine.
"Gonff, you old thief, is that really you?" Martin's deep voice called up to me, filled with more emotion than I had ever heard from my quiet friend. I began to shake with laughter at his joy. "Shush matey. Not so loud. You'll wake the big feller. Here, grab this vine and I'll pull you up."
He immediately complied, digging his claws into the slippy walls in an attempt to help me as he climbed. He lent his strength to me then, helping me haul the others up.
Only then did they properly say hello. I do not think I have ever been so warmly greeted by anyone. They evidently had shared my fears. Martin's paws locked around me with that iron-clamp grip, squeezing the life out of me and he took comfort from my smaller form. I wheezed and attempted to return his enthusiastic embrace, grinning happily against his shoulder. When he pulled back, he was surreptitiously wiping at his cheeks. He smiled at me, a warm bright smile."Don't scare me like that again, mousethief!" he said, his eyes suddenly sad, as if remembering a past loss. Did this remind you of another comrade, fallen and left behind? I made to question him, but a loud rumble from my stomach interrupted me. I immediately forgot what I had been about to say. "Bring any rations with you, matey?"
I did not remember that moment of sadness till years later. And then it seemed inappropriate to ask. To relive dark memories in the sunset of your life is not to even be considered. We remembered the good times, didn't we matey? As we sat in the sun, listening to the Dibbuns playing on the lawn, fighting their first mock-battles with sticks and tinpot helmets. We used to laugh as we recalled our own battles. But one battle we did not recall. It was too painful, too sharp, and too dangerous to remember. I nearly lost you…(flashback)
The bright shine of midday was just easing by the time the captive Kotir troops had been suitably subdued and organised. I was tired, the satisfying bone-weary tiredness that comes from a hard job well done. I was standing with Lady Amber, when Skipper and Bella joined us.
"Where has the big cat got to?" the Squirrelqueen asked, biting her lip and fidgeting with her ever-present javelin. I gasped as realisation hit me- no one had seen Tsarmina!
But Timballisto had an even more worrying question. "Where is my friend? Has anyone seen Martin?"
Dumbly I shook my head as Ben Stickle answered. I'd got so caught up, I hadn't noticed my best friend's disappearance. He was heading for Kotir? What possible purpose could that have?
Bella, ever a sensible creature, quickly organised a search. I began to scour the bank, making the most of my sharp thief's eyes in the search for my friend.
Dinny and Timbal joined us further down the bank. Our words were anxious, quiet. The air was tense- too tense, oppressive like the heat before a thunderstorm. It was then that Dinny spotted something. I was running before he had finished with my eyes fixed on the glint of sunlight on metal, my heart in my mouth, hoping against hope that it would not be my worst fear. I called back that it was the sword, Martin's sword.
Then I saw him. I was aware of the others following me, but I was numb, my eyes blurring with tears at the sight of the prone form of my friend. No, Martin…
I collapsed to my knees next to him, my body shaking and wrenching with painful, soul-tearing sobs. He was dead. We were too late. My brave friend. I touched his bloodstained fur, oblivious to the dented and twisted armour surrounding me that had been ripped from his body. We were too late. He had departed from this world, left me alone, as my parents had left me. My best friend- it was too much. I couldn't bear it.
I was aware of Timballisto turning Martin over, straightening his limbs and bathing the horrific, hideous wounds that raked across the warrior's form. I wanted to scream at him- He's dead, can't you see, leave him alone, let him rest, leave him in peace, there's no hope! My heart filled with unspeakable rage against the evil that had done this to my friend.
"Who could have done these awful things to a living creature?"
I picked up a broken claw from the mud. "Tsarmina, that's who," I said, grimly.
Dinny began to scuff about at the ground, sniffing the tracks and trying to avoid the pools of blood. "They'm fought a gurt battlefoight yurr. Lookit, catbluud on Marthen's sword, ground all a-ploughed up."
Unable to sit by my friend's mutilated body, I stood and followed the most prominent set6 of tracks. "You're right, matey. The cat went backward into the lake. I think our warrior won the battle." But at such a cost, my heart screamed. Tears welled up in my eyes again as I turned back to him. "Martin, we went through everything together. Why couldn't I have been here to help you?" Why? WHY?
Bella, cradling Martin's head, suddenly cried, "He is alive! His lips are moving!
Such hope! You're fight for life had not ended, but it was close. So close. You were so tired and you'd fought so hard, but you were still fighting. I do not believe I had ever been so scared as I was whilst we waited for Bella to return with the Abbess. I sat by you, listening to your raved mutterings, trying to soothe you as fever wracked your body and madness stole your mind. When it became too much I would simply leave, unable to sit any longer, taking myself to the edge of the camp to watch for Bella. I thought of Columbine, praying that she was safe and happy, wishing I could hear her sweet voice, gaze into her beautiful eyes…
When at last the badger appeared with Abbess Germaine, I remember I was so overjoyed. You had a chance, Martin. My hope was rekindled. But I still worked like an automaton, following Germaine's orders with a detached mind. I was working myself to a standstill. It was only the arrival of my love that made me pause. When I saw her, I ran to her, throwing myself into her arms and allowing a flood of tears to cascade from my eyes. She returned my embrace, letting her own sobs loose, comforting me as I wept like a mousebabe.
You survived. I still cannot believe it to this day. My mighty warrior, you survived. I wedded Columbine, and it was our joint marriage and victory celebration that woke you. You're eyes were clouded, and you were too weak to remain awake for long, but you recognised us all and you were able to speak. It seemed that you were once again hale and whole.
You were safe at last. But that didn't stop me fussing over you like a mother hen for the next half score of days, until you became so frustrated that you asked Timbal to protect you from me. I was outraged, until I realised that I was perhaps being a little overprotective. You had almost completely recovered your strength by the time Abbess Germaine announced her plans to build a great sandstone Abbey over the ruins of Kotir, an idea welcomed with great enthusiasm by all concerned.
You and I immediately set about helping her with the plans, taking trips to the nearby sandstone quarry and figuring out all the building plans with the help of the newly appointed Foremole Dinny.
We were all happy at that time. But Timbal, poor Timbal couldn't share our happiness. He passed away in the winter that followed the end of the war. His time as a slave had weakened his constitution, and he succumbed to a deadly winter fever. We all mourned him- he was well-liked, a good mouse, and he had many friends amongst the woodlanders. But his death hit you hard, harder than I knew. There would be times when I would find you, quiet and reflective, staring out into the forest. I often asked you what was wrong, hoping you would confide in your best friend, but you didn't. I only realised much later that he was your only link to a past you had forgotten, a time of your life whose recollection was denied you by the terrible wounds you suffered. A time that we would later try to recover for you.
Ah, my friend, this recollection has wearied me, saddened me. How I wish I could return to those carefree days, when we were both young and strong and happy and the world was ours for the taking. To the end of your days you were the backbone to our Abbey, the keystone to my life, my greatest friend. As I heave my old bones out of my chair to stare out of my window at our beautiful Abbey gardens, I think of your courageous spirit: our Champion, Mossflower's hero.
As I turn back to the empty room, a cold shiver runs through my body. I can hear a creature moving around in my room, but my dim old eyes can see nothing. "Who's there?" I call out, my voice thin and nervous. "Is anybody there?"
And then, as if by magic, I hear a warm chuckle, and a point of light forms before me, widening out into the stocky shape of a very familiar young mouse, carrying a mighty sword. "Martin?" I ask, unbelieving. "But you died…"
Martin shakes his head, smiling at me, speaking in his deep melodious voice. "I am always here, matey. My spirit lives in these stones, in this Abbey I have loved so much. When the time comes, and a new Champion arises to protect Redwall from evil, I shall be there to guide them. The Warrior's spirit will live on within these walls."
The voice is fading even as I listen, the bright light beginning to die. I rush forwards, my paws grasping for thing I cannot have. "No, don't leave me! Don't leave me here alone!" But he is gone.
I return to my chair and slump down into it, placing my paws over my eyes as tears run down my cheeks.
My name is Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves, and today my world fell apart.