PROLOGUE

Extract from the diary of Winokur Otter, apprentice Recorder of Redwall Abbey:

It didn't start with the shrews.

Or maybe it did, and nobeast was paying attention. There was so much going on those days, all the far-away battles and the tragedies closer to home, who could have foreseen it would all come together the way it did? History can unfold in ways that no creature can predict, not even Urthblood. He was there at the end, of course, but I think he may have been as surprised as anybeast at the way things turned out.

So here we stand, on the threshold of another autumn. As I look back over the events of the previous winter, spring and summer, I can scarcely believe the changes that have been wrought upon the familiar confines of our friendly Mossflower Woods and the surrounding country, changes that are still very much ongoing. These are tumultuous times indeed, unlike any of which Brother Geoff is aware from his studies of the Abbey records. Where it will all end? Who can say?

It will soon be time for yet another Nameday. Abbot Arlyn has asked me to help him come up with an appropriate name for this season, but quite frankly I am at a loss. It is an intimidating task, to be sure, knowing that the name we settle upon is the one which will be entered into the histories, and that all Redwall's future generations will call it by that title. No obvious idea has occurred to me as of yet, and I think if I concentrate on it too hard it will never come. Things like this are best left lying on the edges of the mind, to blossom in their own good time like the flowers of spring.

So much has happened, but those events now belong to seasons past. What we need is a name that will define this season now upon us, a name owing not to what has already occurred but to what is going on about us now and what may yet be, a name to inspire hope and gladden the heart if at all possible. In spite of our losses, we still have so much for which to be thankful. Namedays should be festive and happy times, and we will all do our best to make this one conform to that ideal. Vanessa will surely enjoy herself, of that there is little doubt!

And this is where I am these days - balanced on the edge between what has passed and what is to come. I look around to see things are pretty much the same as they have always been, at least on the surface. Friar Hugh and his kitchen staff still produce the tastiest fare ever to pass a beast's lips and delight the tongue, Balla's cellars supply a never-ending stream of ales and cordials and spirits, Geoff and I hold our lessons for the Abbey children, Cyril and Cyrus still perform their bellringing duties, the otters swim in the pond on warm days and the squirrels patrol the forest and Colonel Clewiston's Long Patrol hares play their part in Redwall's social life and defenses as well. Many new faces have been added to our community these past couple of seasons, but each wayward soul and refugee has found its place here, from the youngest orphan bursting with energy to the most world-weary adult. I shall never grow tired of watching newcomers catching their first glimpse of our grand Abbey, how their eyes grow wide and their jaws fall slack ... and that's before they even get a taste of our food and drink! Most creatures in the lands never dream they might live in so fine a place, and witnessing their reactions always reminds me of how fortunate we all are to be Redwallers.

And yet, beneath all the surface normalcy to which we have more or less returned, the upheavals of the recent past have left scars which may never fully heal. I cannot help but feel that the great crisis of which Urthblood speaks so often may finally have broken upon us, in spite of the calm that we enjoy this moment. That badger's latest actions do fill us with misgivings, but then, Urthblood was always good at spreading disquiet. As one thing resolves, it seems, so another unravels, casting us into further doubt and confusion.

I cannot say what the future may hold. I only know that things will never be the same again.