THE CRIMSON BADGER - Chapter One
He was called Urthblood, and his armor shone as red as his name.
The late summer afternoon sun glinted off the greaves and breastplate of his battle attire as the mighty badger stood in the road before the giant red-brick abbey. For twenty seasons Urthblood had followed the footsteps of fate, and now that path had led him here. The paw of destiny was close, and soon he would know whether all his efforts would be enough to ensure the safety of the lands.
Nobeast had appeared to greet or challenge him. Urthblood's steely gaze traveled from the crenellated battlements atop the perimeter wall to the big double doors of the main gate to the bell tower which reared against the sky, and the peaks of the main abbey building which reached twice as high - the badger's trained warrior's eye missed no detail. Here truly was a place of great strength, a fortress to withstand any siege or assault thrown against it. No wonder it was renowned far and wide as a place of sanctuary in times of trouble.
Except that now their watchfulness left something to be desired. He had been standing outside their gate for no little while, apparently unnoticed. Occasionally his ears caught some snatches of noise from within, some shout or song or mirthful laugh. Perhaps he'd arrived here on a day of celebration, when their guard was lowered and their minds attuned to more frivolous matters. Their reputation for food, drink and festivity was as famous as their hospitality.
No matter; he was no thieving villain seeking to slip into their midst to cause mischief. Where Urthblood went, all would know.
Filling his lungs and swelling his chest to the limits of his armor casing, he reared back his head and unleashed a thunderous cry that reverberated throughout the surrounding countryside of Mossflower Woods.
Immediately all sounds from inside the walls were silenced, and within moments heads started to appear along the top of the western wall. In very short order the battlements were packed with bodies, as countless mice, moles, hedgehogs, squirrels and otters peered warily over the red brickwork to see what manner of creature had interrupted their revelries with such a cry. Every gaze was locked upon him, and a sense of expectancy filled the air as woodlanders and warrior faced each other in silence.
Finally the silence was broken by an older mouse in an ornate habit, brightly muticolored. "Greetings!" he called down from the walltop. "Are you in need of assistance?"
"Are you the Abbot?" Urthblood called back.
"Yes ... er, no ... "
Urthblood's lip curled in bemusement. "Well, which is it?"
The old mouse started over. "I am Arlyn, the retired Abbot of Redwall."
"Good. Then my mission concerns you as well, and any other creature of authority and fighting stead who dwells within your walls. I am Lord Urthblood of Salamandastron, and I bear great and urgent tidings. It is vital that I speak with all of Redwall's leaders. Let me in please."
Half the faces disappeared from the battlements then, as a delegation descended to open the gated main entrance to Redwall Abbey. This still left a large contingent of woodland creatures up above, not wanting to tear their eyes away from the armored badger for even a moment. It was not every day that one of the legendary Badger Lords of Salamandastron came to visit Mossflower Woods.
The labored scraping of wood against wood rent the air as the main bolt was slid back, and one side of the double door swung open. In the shadows beyond Urthblood could see two adult mice, a male in a brown habit and a female in a green one, along with a large female badger clad in a simple sackcloth smock. The female mouse stepped forward.
"I am Abbess Vanessa, and this is Brother Geoff, our Abbey recorder and historian. And this," she indicated the larger creature just behind her, "is Maura, our badger Mother. Welcome to Redwall. Are you alone, Lord?"
"Yes ... for now. I have troops far to the north, but they are presently engaged."
"Oh? Is there trouble there?"
"I have come to tell of great happenings in the lands, both good and evil. There is much to speak of, and it cannot all be said out here standing in the road."
The Abbeydwellers regarded Urthblood uncertainly for some moments. He was quite openly armed, and armed very well, in the fashion of all badger warriors. Burnished red armor encased his upper body from neck to waist. His hind legs were like treetrunks, with proud scars showing here and there through the gray-brown fur. He carried no helmet, but the backpiece of his steel suit rose in a flange like a high collar, shielding most of the back of his head. The circular shield and axe strapped across his back both looked to have seen many a battle, and a great sword hung sheathed at his side. If this were an evil-minded creature, he could obviously cause untold harm once admitted to the Abbey. But the Badger Lords of Salamandastron were known far and wide for their courage, honesty and nobility. They were the perennial protectors of the coastlands from the searat and corsair pirate hordes. Urthblood stood before them, proud, head high, his earnest gaze meeting each of theirs unflinchingly.
The Abbess stirred herself as if from a trance. "Forgive us, Lord, but we are unaccustomed to receiving one so great as yourself. My apologies if we gave the appearance of rudeness or mistrust. You have come to us on a day of celebration, and you are more than welcome to join us." She looked over her shoulder, where others had gathered in the entrance way behind Maura the badger. "Clear the way! Make room for Lord Urthblood to pass!"
The woodlanders retreated, and the three Abbey leaders led Urthblood through the gate into Redwall. The protective wall which encircled the abbey and its grounds was of such thickness that passing under it was almost like passing through a short tunnel.
The other side of the gate gave way to the meticulously cared-for greensward of the inner lawns. By this time most of the onlookers up top had made their way down the wall stairs to join with the other revellers from the Abbey grounds, and the gathering around the newly-arrived badger was quite large. Many were infants and young ones, peeking through the legs of their parents and guardians or out from behind them. A few of the more precocious ones stood up front with the adults.
Urthblood scanned the space within the high walls. The Abbey proper with its attached bell tower stood tall and proud and red in the sunlight, crafted from the same dusky sandstone as the protective perimeter wall. Beyond he could see a large pond and a stand of well-tended trees, probably a fruit orchard. The plain natural beauty of the place stirred his heart, but the practical utility appealed to his warrior side. With its own food and water supply within the sealed grounds, Redwall Abbey was designed as much as a fortress as it was a place of peace and refuge.
Between the main gate and the pond, a large baking pit had been dug, and set up near it were many tables spread with a multitude of delicacies to make any beast's mouth water. Savory aromas of many kinds hung in the air, mingling with the mellow burning odor of the hot charcoal in the pit.
An otter ducked behind Urthblood to see to the closing of the main gate, while Abbess Vanessa invited him to partake of the feast displayed before them.
"We are celebrating the elevation of our chief otter here to the official position of Skipper of Redwall's otters. You must be tired and hungry after your travels. Please join us at our tables, and later we can discuss the matters which have brought you here."
"If it is all the same," said Urthblood, "I would rather get right to the business at paw. I can see your tables are well stocked, and I am sure there will be plenty left after we have spoken."
Brother Geoff snorted a laugh. "You might not say that so quickly if you'd ever seen our newly-appointed otter Skipper Montybank in action. He's the champion scoffer at Redwall, and when he's around, food usually isn't. Not for long, anyway."
A snort of another kind sounded behind them. Urthblood turned to see the otter who'd gone to close the gates.
"I'll have y'know it's hard work keepin' all o' me otter crew well-drilled an' in proper waterdog shape. A beast's gotta keep 'imself well energized fer such a job." Montybank turned from Geoff to Urthblood and gave an informal bow. "Right honored to meetcha, M'Lord."
Urthblood regarded the brawny otter. "If you are Redwall's Skipper of otters, you will want to be at this meeting." He turned to the Abbess. "As will every Redwaller who holds a position of decision making or defense. It distresses me to pull you good folk from you feast, but these matters are of utmost importance."
"They must be serious indeed, for you to urge such haste." Abbess Vanessa turned to Montybank. "Round up the other chief Abbey leaders ... Alexander, Foremole, Highwing, anybeast else you think should be at this meeting. Geoff and I will show Lord Urthblood down to Cavern Hole. We'll meet you all down there."
The otter saluted smartly and hurried off to obey.
Vanessa scanned the crowd until she saw the retired Abbot Arlyn, who'd come down from the walltop where he'd been the first to greet the Badger Lord. He wasn't hard to spot in his fancy embroidered robes. Staying on the fringes of the gathering, the old mouse seemed very self-conscious about his manner of dress, and hesitated when Vanessa called him over to her. "You heard all of that, Arlyn?"
He nodded. "Indeed I did. Although I scarcely know what to make of it all."
"Nor do I. I've only been Abbess for a short time. You should be at this meeting too. You may be retired now, but you have many seasons of experience, and I would not be without your counsel now."
The old mouse nodded once. "Of all the times for you and Sister Aurelia to bully me into wearing a multicolored clown's outfit, it would be the day that a Badger Lord visits!" He gave a sheepish grin toward Lord Urthblood. "You must forgive me, My Lord. I do not usually dress like this!"
"Do not concern yourself, Abbot. There are more important matters to concern us than your choice of garment on this day. The Abbess is right; you most certainly should join us."
"Then I most certainly will."
The assembled Redwallers stood and watched their old Abbot and young Abbess escort the mysterious, crimson-armored badger into the Abbey.
After all of Redwall's chief leaders and defenders had gone down to the hastily-called council in Cavern Hole, the rest of the Abbeydwellers were left to talk amongst themselves up on the festival grounds. There was much speculation on the significance of the badger's unexpected arrival. Somebeasts returned to the tables, where much food from the feast remained, and expressed their opinions through stuffed cheeks and chewing jaws. Most, however, had eaten their fill and chose to relax in small scattered groups on the greensward or at the pond's edge, dabbling their paws to relieve the summer heat. But no matter where they congregated, no tongue was still.
In the shade of the orchard, three friends joined in the speculation. The two young mouse brothers, Cyril and Cyrus, sat with their constant mole friend Billus, beneath a damson tree whose fruit hung small in the early season.
"What a badger!" Cyrus said, still amazed by the sight of Urthblood. "He must've been twice the size of our Maura."
"Hurr, t'were more loik three toimes, burr hurr," Billus said through a mouthful of unripe damson. "An' that armor ... wot a beast!"
Cyril, the oldest of the three, had a faraway look in his eye. "They said he's from Salamandastron ... a Badger Lord of the Mountain."
Cyrus looked up at his brother. "Salamonsterwot?"
"Salamandastron," Cyril corrected. "You remember, Brother Geoff gave a lesson on it once."
"Yurr, et be a gurt 'n' moighty place boi western sea," added Billus, wiping damson juice from his chin with a digging claw.
"The Badger Lords have been masters of the mountain fortress for ... well, as long as anybeast can remember. They've always protected the coastlands from searat invasions, giving us here in Mossflower country peace from pirate raiders and slavers." Cyril turned upon the grass where he sat, commanding the attention of his sibling and molefriend. "Legend has it that Salamandaston was a volcano once, when the world was much younger than it is now. I've heard that the very first Badger Lords were born from the fires of the mountain, and they tamed that same fire for their mighty forges. No creature commands flame and hammer and anvil like they do. Well, that's because they were born in fire."
"Hurr hurr, doan't you'm be berleevin' that, Cyruz," Billus laughed. "They'm be jus' fairy stories, fer hinfants an' such."
"Don't be too sure, Billus," Cyril said to the mole. "The sword of Redwall's founder Martin the Warrior was made by one of the Badger Lords of Salamandastron. That weapon is older than the Abbey itself, and its blade is still as keen as the day it was forged."
"Burr, there'm be lots o' legernd surroundin' ee sword o' Marthen," Billus nodded. "Sumbeasts says et were made o' metal wot fell from outen ee skoi."
Cyrus's eyes went wide. "Metal from the sky!" he whispered.
"Cudd be, fer all oi knows. But badgers be badgers, an' no beast be a-borned frum foire."
"Oh, you've got no imagination, Billus!" Cyril chided. "Sometimes I think you moles are too sensible for your own good."
"Senzurble enuff not to go getten mixed up in war an' such, loik you'm mousefolk." Billus rummaged through a pouch at his waist. "Anybeast care fer summ carndied chesknutters?"
The two mice ignored his offer of sweets. "What d'you suppose that Badger Lord wants with us here at Redwall?" Cyrus asked his companions.
"We'll find out soon enough, when the meeting in Cavern Hole lets out." Cyril cast an envious glance toward the Abbey building. "Wish I could be down there, though. Hear it with my own ears. Adults never tell us young ones everything that goes on. And if that badger's here on an errand of war, you can bet we'll never get to hear the good stuff."
"Gudd stuff?" Billus shook his head. "Bain't nuthin' gudd about war, Cyrull. Oi'm surprised at you'm speakin' suchloik. Wot'd Brudder Geoffer say if'n 'ee was to 'ear you makin' glory talk about war?"
"He won't find out, unless you go blabbing it to him, mole."
Billus clutched at his round stomach. "Urr ... oi think they damsons doan't be roipe enuff fer proper ettin'. Moi tummee feels sick."
Cyril regarded his friend. "I take back what I said about moles being so sensible."
Nine creatures sat around the big table in Cavern Hole.
Urthblood was given the head seat, both as a place of honor and because he would presumably be doing most of the talking. The Abbess seated herself at the Badger Lord's right paw.
Vanessa made the introductions. "You've already met Brother Geoff, our Abbey recorder and historian ... Abbot Arlyn ... Maura, our badger matriarch ... and Montybank, our newly-elevated Skipper of otters. That squirrel next to Monty is Alexander, chief of the Mossflower Partrol. Between him and Maura you'll see our Foremole. And that sparrow between Geoff and Monty is Highwing, the leader of the sparrowfolk, or Sparra, who dwell in our attic spaces."
The bird, who sat upon a special low perch that enabled him to sit at a level appropriate to the table, bowed his head to the badger. "We did not meet earlier, My Lord, for my beak was stuck in a pot of flan when you arrived. Not my most dignified moment, I'm afraid."
"So there you have it," Abbess Vanessa concluded. "Together, I suppose you could say we make up the leadership of Redwall Abbey."
Urthblood nodded slowly. "Fine, fine."
The badger's deep voice echoed off the stone walls and the rafters overhead. Cavern Hole was an enormous space, large enough to hold the entire Abbey population, as it had during many past celebrations, and on many a fierce winter's night when the gusting cold had penetrated the upper dormitories. The other creatures at the table waited for Urthblood to continue, but the warrior remained silent as the echoes faded. As the silence threatened to become awkward, the Abbess broke it.
"It has been many generations since the last contact between Redwall and Salamandastron. How is it that a Badger Lord of the Mountain comes to be wandering Mossflower country, all alone?"
"I have wandered much farther than this," Urthblood said. "For the past twenty seasons my brother Urthfist has held the Lordship of Salamandastron, while I have journeyed far and wide on matters of concern to us both."
"Two Badger Lords?" Brother Geoff remarked. "I do not believe I have ever heard of a time when there were two Lords of the Mountain, and I know the histories very well."
"We took joint Lordship of Salamandastron while we were still quite young. I am the elder, but we always ruled as equals. It is good that there are two of us, for these are times for warriors."
Vanessa looked to the Badger Lord with great concern. "You have spoken of nothing but graveness and urgency since you arrived at our gate, My Lord. Tell us what weighs upon you so, and what it has to do with Redwall."
"It is a matter of prophecy," Urthblood began. "High in the upper reaches of Salamandastron there is a chamber which has served as both tomb and throne room over the generations. Carved into its rock walls can be found the living history of all that has come before, and hints at what may yet be. You see, there come times when we Badger Lords are gripped by a mania, a trance, and it is during such times that we go to that chamber, and fate will speak through us into the rock. We awake as if from a dreamless sleep to see what we have carved, for we have no awareness while in the trance. Many prophecies have been foretold in this manner, and more than one Lord of the Mountain has read his doom in words carved by his own paw. It is not always easy to bear this burden of destiny, but it is our lot and we accept it."
"Yes, I have heard of this phenomemon," said Geoff. "Martin the Warrior, our founder, visited Salamandastron during the Wildcat War, and his sword was forged by one of your distant predecessors, Boar the Fighter. Sunflash the Mace and Rawnblade were two Badger Lords who visited Redwall early in its history, and one of our early badger mothers - Mara, I believe - spent much of her childhood in the mountain. More recently, Lady Cregga Rose-eyes was a former ruler of Salamandastron who became our badger matriarch. There is much in our histories about that legendary place."
"You know your history very well," Urthblood commended Geoff. "Twenty seasons ago, I was seized by such a mood as I have described. For the better part of a day, I was in the trance, adding to the carvings on the chamber walls. When I finally came to my senses and looked upon what I had written, I was filled with dread. It was a great prophecy, and an evil one."
Every face at the table was grave, every gaze locked upon Urthblood like iron. "What did it say?" the Abbess ventured.
"That a time of unmatched crisis will come in our lifetimes. That it will encompass all the lands, and all of its creatures."
"War?" breathed old Abbot Arlyn.
"War as never before."
An icy claw seemed to reach through the ceiling to clutch at the very heart of Cavern Hole, as the breath of doom hung upon the still air.
"Tell us," Abbess Vanessa implored, "exactly what does this prophecy say?"
"It is vague about the exact shape of the threat," Urthblood explained. "It seems to suggest more a continued state of turmoil or chaos, rather than any single battle, war or enemy. It may be a time of many different armies facing each other in a multitude of places, over the course of seasons. One thing is clear: the long peace which has held sway over Mossflower is soon to end."
"It is no wonder that you appear so grim," said Vanessa, the color drained from her face. "So, what is to be done?"
"After reading this prophecy, I left Salamandastron in the care of my brother Urthfist and the brave fighting hares of the Long Patrol who have always served the Badger Lords well. They have held the lands along the western coast secure.
"While my brother guarded the mountain and the coastlands, I wandered far and wide throughout the lands, from the base of the great south cliff wall to the far north, all the way to the shore of the eastern sea where the lands narrow. Always I was vigilant for any hint or clue of the coming storm, always assessing the mood of the creatures I met to know whether they could be counted as friend or foe in time of crisis. And I have been preparing. For you see," Urthblood leaned his armored bulk farther over the table toward them, "I am not wholly convinced that the prophecy is inevitable. It may just be that, if we tread upon the knife edge of fate and choose our course of action most carefully, we may be able to deny this destiny. Even if we cannot, measures can be taken to ensure that as many good and honorable creatures as possible can emerge from this unscathed." He leaned back. "Even Redwall may be at peril when the storm breaks. So I have come to assist you in defending your Abbey."
"Defend it from what?" Maura asked her fellow badger. "How can we know what steps to take if we don't know what's coming?"
"Maura has a good point," Arlyn said. "Tell us, My Lord, have you seen nothing in all your journeys that would answer this for us?"
"Nothing definite," Urthblood answered, "although I can tell you of one development that is most unsettling. The power of the searats has grown great, perhaps greater than ever before. Of all the enemies we may come to face, they pose the most obvious and immediate threat.
"At the time that I carved my prophecy and began my wanderings, there were two great searat lords, Farca and Garwal, and each strove to make himself king over all his kind. But their power was nearly equally balanced, and neither could gain the upper paw over the other.
"The day dawned at last when Farca and Garwal moved into open conflict against each other. Garwal was the more competent of the two, and commanded the loyalty of his captains and crew, while Farca was more treacherous and cruel. Farca slew Garwal and prepared to make himself king of all the searats. But providence was not kind to him, for in my journeys I spent some time of my own at sea, and fate placed me close at paw when these events unfolded. I slew Farca, recognizing him for the vile creature he was. This is how it came to pass that the two most powerful of the searats both met their deaths on the same day."
The Redwallers sat in awed silence at the telling of this tale. It was old Arlyn who broke it. "But, if Farca and Garwal are both dead, where is the searat threat?"
"Farca and Garwal kept the searats evenly divided," Urthblood explained. "On the face of it, their deaths might have seemed a great boon to all good and honest creatures. But it cleared the way for a single ratlord to emerge and unite the two fleets. Such a figure has indeed come to power: Whiteclaw, one of Garwal's former captains, who now calls himself Tratton the Searat King. He commanded the respect of Garwal's surviving crews, and with Farca dead, he was soon able to bring that rat's leaderless horde under his rule as well. He has sealed the breach, and rebuilt the island fortress of Terramort. Tratton is probably the first true Rat King since Gabool of old, only more dangerous. His fleet is vast, his fighters are well-trained, and he has raided shore settlements all up and down the coast ... although so far he has always been careful to land well north and south of Salamandastron, beyond the range of my brother's hare patrols. But he harbors ambitions of empire, and his mastery of the sea lanes is absolute. If his power continues to grow, he may soon try to challenge Salamandastron directly."
"Then surely," concluded Abbess Vanessa, "this Tratton will be the bringer of the great crisis you prophecized?"
Urthblood shook his head. "I do not think so. Tratton's sea power may be uncontested, but his crews are not so accustomed to fighting on land. Even were he to capture Salamandastron and the coastlands, he would be hard-pressed to project his power inland very far. Tratton is no fool; he will not jeopardize his sea kingdom to take territory beyond the waterways. No, Tratton is not the only threat to our lands, and he may not even prove to be the worst. I suspect there will be another enemy, perhaps more than one, whose threat we have yet to perceive. The danger may come from some undiscovered source within these lands, or it may come from without - many of the regions east and south of here are strange, and have not felt the paws of honest creatures for many seasons. Other evils of Tratton's magnitude may lie out there as well, as yet unbeknownst to us."
"And you have no idea what they might be?" the Abbess asked.
"No ... just a feeling that the storm is about to break, and we must gird ourselves for the worst. This is why I have come to Redwall now. I have spent most of these past seasons up north, and I have slain many evil creatures there, and still that region remains harsh and warlike. I have also assembled allies who will assist us. My brother and I have always relied upon Redwall to hold peace and order in Mossflower. But now I feel I have done all I can for the Northlands, and the time has come to consolidate the power of Redwall and Salamandastron in this region. The two protectors must unite in common cause. Together we will face these troubles, and through our twin strength persevere."
Urthblood looked to Vanessa. "With your permission, Abbess, I would like to take charge of the defenses of this Abbey ... or, at the very least, be appointed as special advisor to your own defenders, so that we may fortify Redwall against any possible assault. I am a born warrior, and Redwall is currently without a champion to wield the sword of Martin. My skills and experience are needed here."
Alexander cleared his throat. Thus far the squirrel had held his tongue, content to listen while the wiser heads of Redwall conferred with Urthblood. But now he spoke up.
"With all due respect, Lord, we've always looked out for ourselves here at Redwall. Our wallgates have recently been strengthened and renovated. We squirrels of the Mossflower Patrol range far and wide to scout for enemies, as do Highwing and his Sparra. Monty and I regularly drill our defenders. There is a network of fortified tunnels connecting all the most important sites within the Abbey grounds. I really can't see how we can do much more to improve our defenses."
"Me bushytailed matey's right," Monty put in. "This ol' Abbey's 'bout as shipshape as anybeast c'd want her. Don't see as she needs much in th' way o' improvin'."
Urthblood's dispassionate gaze traveled around the cresent of faces, from mouse to mole to otter to badger to sparrow and back again. The Abbess was afraid that Monty and Alex might have offended him, but when Urthblood spoke it was with his typical calm.
"In the time that I stood unnoticed outside your walls, an enemy could have set fire to your main gate and had it burned halfway through. If I had not announced my presence when I did, how much longer would I have had to stand in the road before one of your sentries spotted me?"
Monty and Alex cleared their throats and uttered a few "ers" and "ums," but they were not the only ones at the table to look down in chagrin.
"Lord Urthblood is right," said Abbess Vanessa. "We Redwallers have grown accustomed to peace. All of us here have never known anything else. We have lowered our guard in recent seasons, and we should be thankful it was Lord Urthblood who pointed this out to us, rather than an enemy. There is a time of crisis coming, and this warrior has offered us the benefit of his knowledge and assistance. It would be both foolish and ungracious of us to turn him away."
She turned to the crimson-armored badger. "We accept your offer of help, My Lord, and gladly welcome any counsel you would share with us."
"There is still much to speak of," said Urthblood, "but it can wait for another day. For now I would like to get right to the task of inspecting this Abbey for myself from top to bottom, inside and out, to see how its defenses might be improved. I will need some of you to show me around. Blueprints of Redwall would also be helpful, if you have such plans. And I would like to read any detailed accounts you may have of the wars that you have fought over the seasons."
"Brother Geoff can help you with those last two items," Vanessa said, "since, as you have seen, he knows his history very well. He is in charge of the Abbey archives, and should be able to find what you need."
"I am at your service, My Lord." Geoff turned to the Abbess. "I also have another idea, Nessa ... er, Abbess. It strikes me that many times in the past when Redwall has faced a crisis, our founders seem to have foreseen those troubles and left some bit of hidden wisdom to help get us through. There was the carving under the great tapestry and the clues in Martin's tomb that led us to rediscover the lost sword of Martin when we needed it against Cluny the Scourge, and the verse inscribed up on the roof that aided us in the struggle against Malkariss and Slagar the slaver fox. Maybe they've left something similar for this occasion."
"Good thinkin', Geoff matey!" Montybank declared exuberently. "That's usin' yer ol' brainbox!"
"Yes," agrees the Abbess. "But where will you look?"
"The old records would be as good a place to start as any," Geoff said, "starting with the founding of Redwall and going right up to the present. I could use some help with this, since that will be a tremendous amount of reading. Our two young bellringers, Cyril and Cyrus, both have a good head for history. Perhaps they could be excused from their usual bellringing duties to assist me."
"I think we can find other willing paws to pull the bell ropes for awhile," the Abbess assured him. "And of course you yourself will have to be excused from your teaching duties while you're conducting this search of the archives. In times of trouble, sacrifices must be made ... as I'm sure your students will readily agree!"
She stood to signal the end of the council, and the other eight creatures arose as well. "We've come up with some good ideas on where to start. Let us now go and make Redwall ready ... and just let any evil creature try to take it away from us!"