Authors Note:

Hello all, Killy here.

This is an older fic that Highwing so graciously edited for me way back. It is still a work in progress, so I'm posting it up in the hopes it will get me back into gear and finishing the darn thing. Enjoy.

Prologue

Extract of a personal letter from Peony Linwood of Salamandastron to her sister Betony Samara of Redwall Abbey:

My dearest sister,

It seems so long since my last correspondence, and I do hope you will forgive me. Much has happened since your last visit this past Spring. The chaps are the same as always; they change about as fast as this blooming great rock we live in. As for me and Tutsan, the trials and joys of married life seem unending. Tutsan was promoted shortly after you left to return to the Abbey. He claims it was unexpected, as if there is a modest bone in the fibber's body. You should see the bounder puff up the instant anybeast refers to him as Captain Tutsan Linwood. There will be no living with him now, let me tell you dear sister ... not that I could say I'm exactly living with my husband at the moment. Married two seasons, and Tut has been off and on Patroling for the most of it. I do wish he would return home soon as our little duo will become a trio. Mother was none too impressed, let me tell you! However, poor Tutsan didn't know we were expecting when he left the mountain. All manner of bird and runner have scouted the area for him trying to pass along the message to the father-to-be. Knowing my Tutsan, he's probably off at that Abbey of yours. Should that be the case, do tell him to come home.

So, my beloved soon-to-be-auntie Bet, I must bid you a pleasant season and await you letter.

Love for all,

Peony.

Chapter one

Long Patrols and Leverets

The officer's mess of Salamandastron was crowded with commanders who would be in charge of patrols scheduled to leave the mountain within the season. There was hardly room enough to breath, let alone move. Windows and doors had been opened to aid air circulation, though this did little to help. The seated hares fanned themselves with their parchment scrolls. Their uniforms were loosened and partially unbuttoned; some had removed their jackets altogether, draping them over the backs of their chairs. Not even the strictest officer was going comment on the way formalities were quietly forgotten. The only space not packed to the brim was a wall at the back where a large map hung.

Colonel Hardan paced under the map, wooden pointer in one paw and a tankard of cold mountain ale in the other. Hardan was an older hare who probably could have retired seasons ago. His fur was silvery grey, flecks of the original sandy colour throughout the only true indicator of age on the hearty creature. He tapped the pointer against the stone wall to get the attention of his chattering fellow hares.

"Could I have your h'attention if you don't mind? If you would be so kind as to turn your blinkin' peepers this way we can get this lot sorted out before tea time, wot wot. At the last meeting, as I hope most of you jolly well remember, we agreed on twoscore runs of patrols for the Autumn and Winter seasons."

He raised the wooden pointer, gesturing to each area on the map as he spoke. "The Autumn will start off with five patrols going north. For those of you making this route, kindly remember to report to the northern post before continuing." He tapped the spot on the map for emphasis.

"Ten or so will be going inland, fanning out as you go, before returning home. I do jolly well hope not to find all ten patrols arriving at Redwall Abbey unannounced. Especially when your patrol is supposed to be heading south, wot. Not that that has ever happened to one of our chaps, has it, Lieutenant Aubrey?"

He pointed the stick towards the hare in question. Aubrey looked around innocently, pretending not to have heard the officer's comment. This caused his fellow younger officers to smile and stifle laughs as the older hares glared sternly at any who found the antics of Lieutenant Aubrey Linwood amusing.

Returning to the map, Hardan continued, "Now, the rest of you will be patrolling our bally shore lines."

The elderly hare paused, leaning on the pointer and taking a quick drink of the ale before continuing his address. "Naturally, the chaps responsible for organizing patrols took careful consideration of all your requests." A dark grin appeared on his grizzled features as he went on. "And as always, me being the ole bounder I am, I tossed the blinking lot out the window and made up the schedule meself."

A slew of comical moans and grumbles rose from the assembled creatures.

"What a 'orrible 'are the Colonel is."

"I say, Sah, let's toss him out the bally window."

"'Tis tyranny, sah! Bloomin' tyranny!"

The jesting came to an abrupt halt as a figure attempted to quietly slip into the room unnoticed. Badger Lady Oranna was still a young creature, not even full grown, yet she carried many of the responsibilities of adulthood. Blushing deeply behind her stripes, she watched as all hares present hastily fixed their uniforms and stood to attention.

"Er, sorry I'm late," she said, waving her paws frantically in a gesture for the hares to stay seated.

Hardan set his tankard aside, trying to hide a disapproving look. "Marm, when a meeting of Long Patrol officers is called, it's usually expected that the ruler of Salamandastron is present…"

Oranna cut him off nervously, watching as all eyes set upon her again. "I'm terribly sorry, Colonel Hardan. I lost track of time."

Captain Bloomberry, a charming young haremaid, interjected before the Colonel or any other hare could say another word. She passed a quick smile to Oranna. "No matter, the Colonel was just getting started. Sorry to say, marm, but we haven't been on our best behaviours. Good thing the young rankers aren't about; imagine what they would think to see us not in proper uniform and joking about on official business, wot? No matter - come sit by me. Come along now, Hardan, we don't want to melt away in here."

Oranna sighed with relief and sat next to the kindly Captain, waiting for Hardan to continue. The Colonel shook his head, having forgotten what he had wanted to say. He stroked his whiskers thoughtfully, trying to recall the speech he had prepared but to no avail. "Oh, dash it, the schedules are written down for you." He nodded to two awaiting Corporals carrying stacks of parchment to distribute. They quickly passed the schedules around to all and were dismissed. "Any questions before we dismiss?"

"Why is Tutsan's wife in for a Fall Patrol with Major Bernie? You know she can't make it?" Captain Bloomberry piped up.

Major Bernard Mullins was a stout hare quickly approaching his middle-aged seasons. Everything from the finely-polished monocle to the clean crisp rose coloured uniform reflected the old fashioned mannerisms of the Long Patrol. He turned in his seat to the hare that had lifted his paw to speak. "Whatever are you getting on with, Captain Bloomberry?" He heavily pronounced her name showing his ever growing distain for the habit others had for shortening his.

Captain Bloomberry held back a giggle. "Peony's having a baby. You know that, Major. Or did you bally well think she was just getting fat?"

The Major refrained from commenting on that in particular but went on to say, "Surely by the fall she should be back in top notch condition wot. I don't see what your jolly well worried about. I'm not losing my best tracker."

Hardan pulled his spectacles from the breast pocket of his tunic, studying the parchment carefully. "Oh dear, it appears I've made some mistake. Fancy that, wot. Well, Bernie, I'm afraid you will be losing your tracker. New maternity leave regulations, don'tcha know. I'll just change Peony's assignment and give it to one of our junior trackers; they could do with a little action. T'will do them a bit of good. Capital idea, I think."

There were murmurs of agreement but the Major was not satisfied.

"I don't want some wet-behind-the-ears leveret tracking in a full blown Fall patrol north. The young rip will no doubt go bounding off and get 'imself lost, then have the rest of us tracking to find 'im."

The Colonel raised one brow, a disapproving look in his sharp eyes. "Now Major, there is nothing I can do. If you want to take the matter further, I suggest you argue it with Captain Tutsan and Peony. However, I would much rather hear you extend your best wishes to them. Now then, you're all dismissed. Any questions can be asked after tea, 'cos I'm jolly well famished."

The hares gladly excused themselves from the heat of the officer's mess. The hares saluted quickly to Lady Oranna and made their way to the main mess hall, the young badger close behind.

There was no such thing as a quiet snack at Salamandastron. Everything from early breakfast to late supper was a carefully orchestrated madness. Oranna had often enjoyed this time chatting away with hares her own age or visiting sea otters, but since the start of spring, adulthood seemed to be drawing closer and closer with every breath. Just as Oranna was about to oversee a scone scoffing contest, the looming figure of her mother Elmerlyn ambled towards her.

"Colonel Hardan tells me you were late for the meeting this afternoon," she said, using a tone of voice only a badger mother could.

"I lost track of time … and besides, you weren't there either," Oranna snapped back quickly.

Pulling her daughter aside, Elmerlyn herded the young badger ruler towards the officers' table while lecturing her. "Oranna, whatever shall I do with you? It's time you go to these engagements by yourself; I can't be around to hold your paw forever. You need to start taking on the responsibilities of Lady of Salamandastron. If your father was here now ..."

Oranna cut her off quickly, scowling. "Well, he isn't here. I don't care about boring meetings. I don't have much of a say in things anyway. All I have to do is let them salute me and leave the rest to Colonel Hardan. We don't even really need a Badger Lady."

Elmerlyn became outraged at this statement, wagging her paw before the juvenile badger's face. "These hares are all prepared to lay down their lives for you, and you don't have the decency to so much as arrive to a meeting on time? Oranna the Lazy, they ought to title you!"

Oranna said nothing, taking her seat and pushing the chair arms into the table with such force it caused the cups and platters to totter and rattle. The officer hares immediately grabbed hold to steady the table lest the food be spilled. "Steady on there, ol' Gel! Don't want to spoil the tuck."

The light-hearted comment received nothing from the now-sulking Badger. Elmerlyn sighed and decided to leave her daughter be for now. There was no need to embarrass her by criticizing her actions in front of the senior officers of the Long Patrol. Oranna seemed to be doing a good job of that without her mother's help.