All was quiet outside that night, the sky was clear and calm, the air cool and fresh. Nothing stirred on that quiet spring night, nothing broke the peace. The stars and moon drifted lazily overhead as time passed.
"Another quiet night, eh, Chaddo, m'lad?"
Chaddo looked up at the sound of a familiar voice. "Aye, bucko, another silent night. But that's the beauty of this place, wot, the nights are calm and peaceful. Quite relaxing, I should say, Melsworth, old boy."
"Huh, if'n you want to keep calling me old boy, I can take the tucker here Marm sent up and let you starve the rest of the night," Melsworth responded, an ear dropping comically. The old hare held a bowl of steaming soup between his paws and made as if to turn around. Chaddo, not one to give up any food whatsoever, but then again, he was a hare, placed a paw on Melsworth's shoulder, "Oh, Melly, don't go getting sour on me now…us night guards need our vittles, after all. Can't keep a good watch on an empty stomach," he said, grinning.
"Huh, I daresay, an empty stomach would keep you more alert, not to mention you're getting a bit tubby 'round the midsection. But here y'are, I'd hate to be the one to keep a tubby belly from growing further. Take care, Chaddo, I'm off t'sleep again," Melsworth chuckled, giving Chaddo the bowl and moving off to the homes behind.
The night passed on as Chaddo kept watch.
And then the drums were heard.
Beating out a stiff march, the drums came closer to the Beechbroad Home, heavy beats that warned.
Doom. Doom. Doom.
The night guard peered into the distance, trying to find the source, seeking anything on that still night. But the beats echoed, making it difficult to pinpoint a spot. It seemed like they came from all around.
Doom. Doom. Doom.
He turned to call out to the inhabitants of the Beechbroad, but an arrow seemed to grow from his throat and he toppled silently over the wooden battlements, never again to rise. And still the drums came.
Doom. Doom. Doom.
* * *
"Ay-up! Long Patrol doesn't sleep in, doncha know," a voice thundered through Silver's sleep. "New recruits must learn to wake bright an' early, wot wot! Up, you lazy, lope-eared lot, before I march of to notify m'lord Starstripe! He'll teach y'right quick how to wake up, wot!" Silver struggled to keep asleep, screwing his eyes shut and tucking the blankets firmly around him. Suddenly the cot he was sleeping on was bodily thrust upward, effectively dumping him upon the floor. Silver sat up, rubbing an elbow he knocked in the fall. He groaned as the face of Captain Brady grinned at him.
"Come on, laddo, I didn't recruit ye into my Patrol so you could sleep while the rest of us were busy getting ready to set out. Runners start off the march, wot, and you're our Runner. Now then," Brady said, paws clasped behind his back, "Up an' at attention, sah, or I'll have to report to Lord Starstripe that I need a new recruit!"
The threat worked and Silver was upon his paws quickly, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Silver reporting for duty, sah, no need to report to Starstripe, because I'm already out the door."
"That's Lord Starstripe, young'un, and we're moving off to the East, paying a visit to Redwall, perhaps, on the trip. Report back in three hours!" Brady shook his head as Silver dashed off before he followed, going through the tunnels of Salamandastron to round up his Patrol.
Silver sped through the tunnels, straight to the kitchen, pulling his tunic on as he went. On the table were several haversacks, packed and ready for the long march ahead. He picked up one and slung it across his back easily before plucking an apple off the table nearby. A meager breakfast, for a hare, but he was eager to start off. Just as Silver was about to pass through the mess hall doors, a haremaid bobbed up before him, paws behind her back.
"I heard you were going off on your first patrol, Silver," she said, batting her eyelashes prettily. Ivy was a pretty little haremaid, a bit short for her age, covered in soft hazelnut-colored fur. Her paws came to the front, a small loaf of bread in one and a flask in the other. "I thought you might sleep in, like you used to, so I made you breakfast. The loaf is oatmeal, from yesterday's breakfast, and the flask has dandelion and burdock cordial in it. I left the apples out for anyone who wanted them, and I see you helped yourself."
Silver smiled and accepted the presentation gratefully, "Thank you, Ivy," he said a bit shyly, "This should hold me over for the entire run." With that, he bent forward and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, ducking around to sprint down the halls, Ivy's giggling following him down. He dashed out of Salamandastron, managing somehow to hold on to all three items until he finished his apple. A swig of the cordial seemed to revive him and sped across the beach sands, making for the line of trees to the east. The mountains were long to cross, but with any luck, the Patrol would be through them before the day was over.
Dutifully Silver ran, making notes of everything around, picking his way quickly through the forest. Two hours later, he turned back and followed his path until he came to Brady and his patrol, following his tracks. "Nothing ahead, sah," he said, stopping and saluting. "The forest is peaceful and quiet, should be a pleasant march, wot."
Brady nodded, "Righto, march on, everyone, formation not needed here. We'll pass over the mountains quick-like and camp in Mossflower Wood. Lead on, Silver."
* * *
It was the smoke above the treeline that caught Eclipse's attention in the first place; it was the smell of many burnt things that drew her forward. Cautiously the haremaid crept, keeping to the shadows of the forest, towards the smoking home ahead.
The sight was one she had seen before, but it still brought feelings of anger, fury at those that had done it. A small hut lay smoldering in the middle of a clearing, a home she had visited before, owned by a family of voles. Around it were scenes of a struggle, the scent of foxes was clearly marked. No were could the offenders be seen…but the charred bodies of the former inhabitants stood out clearly.
Eclipse's jaw clenched tightly as she strode out. Behind her came an otter, just as solemn as his hare-counterpart. "Eclipse…" he intoned, only to be silenced by a wave of the haremaid's paw. Eclipse strode forward and sighed before beginning her duty of placing the bodies of those that didn't survive in the hut. Once the task was done, she turned to her otter companion.
"Rush, get to the river, see if you can find anything…or anyone…I'm going to go after them," Eclipse responded, immediately picking up the track of the vermin and starting off without another word. The otter knew it was useless to argue with her. With a shrug, he slipped into the stream nearby.
Eclipse followed the trail; the vermin had not even bothered to cover the signs of their crossing. The ground below was pounded with pawprints, the vegetation to either side was cut and bruised. The trail was easy to follow and Eclipse made good time. A quiver of arrows was attached to her back, a thick staff with a string, formed into a bow, was clutched in one paw. She focused on the path, moving quietly and quickly, alert for any sign that she was getting closer.
After a long trek, she could hear voices ahead. She paused and took to the surrounding foliage, blending in nicely. She crept forward, careful to make no sound, and came upon the sight of a band of foxes. They were painted in green and black markings, a crew of villains wielding any weapon they could find. They seemed cheerful after the last plundering. Eclipse could see no captives.
They would pay for what they had done, for the crimes they had commit, Eclipse would see to that. She would deal out what they had to those left dead, but in a more swift and merciless manner; their deaths would be quick, unlike the deaths of those they tortured behind.
Gripping her staff and drawing a dagger from her belt, she leaped forward, giving an unearthly cry.