Chapter Fifty-Two

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

It is the midpoint of spring, and Redwall is preparing for another wedding!

I know it's been some while since I last made an entry in this journal of mine, but between the routine business of helping out Brother Geoff with his lesson presentations and his never-ending attempts to impose order on the Abbey archives - not to mention my regular drills with Skipper Monty, swims in the pond, and all the sundry tasks with which I'm asked to lend a paw - plus all the exciting, unique events that have been coming in such profusion this season, well, it seems I can never find the time to keep current on my diary. Bad waterdog!

But back to the wedding - just the latest thing to occupy our attention here at Redwall, but everybeast's main focus at the moment. When Colonel Clewiston and Melanie announced their betrothal a fortnight ago, it took us all quite by surprise, to say the least. I mean, Melanie is soon to be a grandmum - both Mizagelle and Givadon are with child, with both babes due around the first of summer - and as for the Colonel, well, he's not OLD old the way Broyall was, but he's hardly a leveret either! I guess when the springtime urges get into some creatures, it really gets into them! I do believe that both of Melanie's daughters nearly fainted when they heard this news; all the Long Patrol were in an uproar over this, but it was mostly a happy uproar, I am glad to report. At least, once the initial shock wore off, it was. It takes a lot to flabbergast those implacable hares, but this sure did the trick! Of course, Clewiston is their commander, and no hare of his would begrudge him for exercising his right to take a wife. And Melanie was the obvious choice, being the female Long Patrol closest to him in age. I don't know if they intend to try having children of their own - Melanie might be beyond her seasons for that - but the prospect raises some interesting possibilities. For one thing, Mizagelle and Givadon could end up with a half-brother or half-sister who's younger than their own sons or daughters!

While we all await for these new arrivals from the Long Patrols, we have another babe in our midst to lavish our affections upon. Captain Grayfoot's wife Judelka gave birth six days ago, to a male as hearty and vigorous as any otterbabe ever was! Abbot Arlyn swears he'll be walking by midsummer, and I wouldn't be surprised if that turns out to be so. For now, however, he is totally dependent upon the rest of us for his care and sustenance. And I do mean "us": I don't mean to be cruel, but Judelka is taking to motherhood like a fish takes to the sky. Aside from providing her milk for her son, she seems totally at a loss when it comes to being a mother. Abbess Vanessa even had to coach Judelka on how to hold the baby for nursing! I wonder sometimes whether that ferretwife isn't a little slow mentally, and I know I'm not the only one. She's even proven incapable of naming her own child! And when the Abbess went to Captain Grayfoot and told him that responsibility would have to fall on him, he simply shrugged and said he'd not given the matter any thought, since he never imagined he would have to involve himself in such a thing! With those two for parents, I can't help but wonder how that ferretchild will fare. To his credit, I have heard Grayfoot sitting discussing the matter with the hares and otters and some of the other Abbeydwellers, but if he started out on the task without a clue on how to proceed, he's now had so many name possibilities thrown at him that he doesn't know which way is up anymore! But for now the babe remains nameless, and Vanessa has made Grayfoot agree that if he hasn't settled upon a name by two days hence, she will make the choice for him. It's a shame, really - that precious ferretbabe is so cute that even some of the Long Patrol are going googoo-eyed over him. He deserves the best upbringing he can get.

The good news is that he and Judelka will be dwelling at Redwall for some time yet, and that should benefit the little tyke a good deal. Grayfoot is only just getting ready to leave for the ruins of St. Ninian's, where Lord Urthblood had decreed that the ferret captain should establish his tavern and homestead. Foremole and some of his mole crew have graciously volunteered to accompany him for help with the construction - nobeast can lay a foundation like a mole, after all - along with a few of Montybank's otters, for extra muscle power. With that team, they should have that inn built in very good time indeed. Grayfoot was waiting to leave to begin that task until he made sure that Judelka gave birth without any complications. I may have sounded a bit uncharitable toward him here, but the truth is that he is a goodhearted soul who I'm sure does care for his wife and child more than his soldierly demeanor shows. He's just been an officer for so many seasons that now in his retirement he must learn an entirely new vocation: being a husband and father. I have seen him when he is with his son, seen the wondrous adoration in his eyes as he's cradled that babe in his uncertain arms ... and a little love can make up for a great many shortcomings in other areas.

The only other thing keeping Captain Grayfoot here now is the upcoming wedding of Melanie and the Colonel. Nobeast who's ever had a taste of a Redwall celebration would miss another if they could help it. Even if that ferret were inclined to depart prior to our imminent festivities, he would find himself travelling alone, since the moles and otters wouldn't dream of missing them. Given the spread we had for the last Nameday, I don't think Grayfoot will get his snout out of joint over a couple of days' delay. He and his volunteer crew will probably leave the day after the celebration ... assuming they're not all too stuffed to move! I just hope, for everybeast's sake, that this joyous day is not marred by any tragic or unfortunate incidents of the sort that shadowed this season's Nameday ...

We all still miss Sister Aurelia greatly, but none moreso than Abbess Vanessa, who personally trained Aurelia to take her place as Infirmary Keeper after Arlyn named her Abbess. She is often to be seen standing over the grave of her fallen apprentice in her quieter moments, shedding silent tears of grief for the lost one who shared her calling. She has yet to appoint a replacement for Aurelia, taking over many of the healing tasks herself. To give credit where it is due, the vixen Mona has done quite an admirable job of filling in for our Abbey healer while we are without one, although some of the little ones still seem a bit skittish around her. But her medicinal talents cannot be denied. Abbot Arlyn and some of the others have to keep reminding Vanessa that Mona is only a temporary solution, and will be leaving us as soon as Foxguard is ready. I almost think our Abbess would like to return to her old occupation full-time, leaving her other duties to Arlyn, but of course our dear Abbot is too advanced in his seasons to manage all the responsibilities of running Redwall, especially with everything that's going on in these hectic days. Vanessa will just have to take a new trainee under her wing. I'm sure she recognizes the need for this, even if she is reluctant to act on it just yet. Some things just have to come in their own time ...

We were all gladdened by the news Deltus the squirrel brought us about Cyril and Broggen. It's unfortunate that our two absent friends had to run into such vermin as those slavers, but it sounds as if they emerged from that confrontation with the upper paw, and by a good measure. It's also quite a coincidence that the Guosim happened by just as Broggen was putting paid to the very foxes who'd kidnapped Pirkko last summer. (Not to slight Cyril, but there's little doubt that it was our exiled stoat who put those slavers in their place. I mean, Broggen's a trained, experienced soldierbeast, and Cyril's ... well, just Cyril.) It's good to know those villains aren't running around Mossflower anymore, and just as good to know that Cyril and Broggen were still both all right when last Deltus left them. Broggen did a terrible thing, and while there are those like the Colonel and Lady Mina who will never forgive him for what happened with Sister Aurelia, most Redwallers have come to accept that it was not entirely his fault and still think of that stoat as a friend and a goodbeast. One with problems, but a goodbeast nonetheless. It was very big of Cyril to volunteer to go with Broggen. We all hope the two of them will be all right, wherever fate takes them. One thing is fairly certain: with the slaying of those foxes and the rescue of those stolen youngbeasts, Broggen has proven his worth as a decent creature to all but the most stubborn-minded among us, and there is little doubt in my mind that the Abbess would welcome Broggen back to Redwall anytime he cares to return. The choice is his, of course, and he may well carry too much shame to ever want to live here again, but I should be rather surprised if we don't see his beret-topped face around here some season or other.

It's always fun to see the reactions of visitors who've never been to Redwall before. Our reputation for good food and warm hospitality is known far and wide, it is true, but some beasts just need to see it for themselves! I do believe Deltus and his two tribesmates could have had their jaws picked up off the floor numerous times during their brief stay with us. I still don't know which impressed them more: our October ale or the moles' deeper'n'ever pie. Or maybe it was Friar Hugh's special honey plum crumble. Most certainly they had never slept in beds as soft and warm as the ones they enjoyed that night. We were all very surprised when they insisted on being off the very next day, but then it is clear that these squirrels of Clan Barrenoak are grim and independent creatures, not given to soft living, so I can understand their eagerness to be back amongst their kinsfolk. Before they left, Alexander and Lady Mina hammered out an informal agreement with Deltus to have his tribe serve as Redwall's eyes and ears down in that region, since the Forest Patrol seldom ventures that far south on that side of the road. Alex had not been aware of the Barrenoak presence in Mossflower and was most interested to learn of them. And thus another ally literally comes out of the woods!

The two young orphans Deltus brought with him are settling in nicely. The badger lad, Metellus, has grown quite attached to Maura - hardly surprising, given what he saw those foxes do to his own mother. Maura is now the only badger left in his life, and Metellus is never far from her side, even as all the other youngsters gleefully flee from her authority. He is quieter and more reserved than any badger - or any other creature his age, for that matter - I ever thought I'd meet. Perhaps he still suffers from the trauma of what he witnessed, or it could just be that a life of solitude in the deep woods has left him more introspective than most. For her own part, Maura has spent so many seasons raising others' children here at the Abbey, I think that finally having one of her own kind among her charges has affected her deeply. Metellus is like the true son she never had, and she has not stopped doting on him since his arrival at Redwall. If he seems a tad tied to her apronstrings, she apparently doesn't mind at all.

And as for that squirrel rascal Budsock, he's taken Pirkko's place as Droge's new best friend, and seems intent on surpassing that rambunctious 'hogchild as the terror of Redwall! It only took a couple of days for him to overcome his initial quiet and awkwardness at being in a strange place among so many new creatures, and by my rudder has he overcome it! He gives poor Maura (and the rest of us!) every bit as much grief as Droge ever did, and when the two of them get together, it's scarcely safe for any Redwaller to take a step or sit down anywhere without risk of running into one of their practical jokes. Oddly enough, young Metellus seems to hold a more restraining influence over Budsock than even Maura. I suspect a special bond was formed between them when they were chained together in that slave line. Droge may be Budsock's favored playmate, but that squirrel and badger share something far deeper. I know Deltus was talking to Alex and the Abbess about having Budsock come live with Clan Barrenoak when he gets a little older, but I believe he will elect to stay here. Budsock admires the Barrenoak squirrels for helping to deliver him out of slavery and here to Redwall, but I cannot see him leaving Metellus and all his new friends ... not to mention that he has developed quite a fondness for Friar Hugh's flavorful products!

I think it also helped Metellus and Budsock that we had other recent arrivals here who were themselves still getting settled into Abbey life. None of the slaves that Browder conducted here have become brothers or sisters of the Redwall order yet, and maybe they never will, but they are of course welcome to live here for the rest of their seasons whether they do or not. It was partly at their suggestion that the Abbess refrained from holding a special feast for our two newest arrivals. The former slaves from the coast were all adults and enjoyed our Nameday immensely (at least up until the tragedy of Sister Aurelia), but they were unanimous in their opinion that Metellus and Budsock would benefit most from a calm time of transition while they grew accustomed to their new home. Those freed slaves of the searats had all suffered personal losses of their own, but in the case of our young squirrel and badger, their emotional wounds were fresh, and they were in greater need of comfort and sanctuary than festivity and celebration. Besides, as has often been pointed out these days, an ordinary meal at Redwall must seem like a feast to most creatures from the wilder parts of Mossflower. And with Clewiston and Melanie's wedding coming up in two days, those two youngsters will soon see for themselves what a real Redwall celebration is!

Yes, all the newcomers are finding their niches here at the Abbey. Granholm has taken up archery lessons with Alex, Mina and Elmwood, with an eye toward becoming an eventual member of the Mossflower Patrol. After all that he endured, that squirrel is determined to dedicate the rest of his life to defending goodbeasts against evil creatures. Wharff and Kurdyla have been embraced by Montybank and his otters, although Kurdyla still sticks close by Browder whenever he can. With Mizagelle in a family way and Browder as the father, it seems highly unlikely that any of the Long Patrols would try anything against that player hare, but Kurdyla is steadfast about protecting Browder against all enemies, whether they exist or not. They say that big otter has mostly recovered his wits since his experience in the caves of the Flitch-Aye-Aye, but since we didn't know Kurdyla before he came to Redwall we have no basis for comparison. He still seems a bit slow to me - more on the ball than Judelka, to be sure, but not the swiftest otter in the stream by any means - but by the fur is he strong! We've seen him lift nearly twice his own weight, and pull up a small dead tree, roots and all, as if it were no more that a mere sapling! I once heard Maura remark that he's actually a badger in an otter's body, and I almost believe it. For brute strength I'd wager Kurdyla could stand toe-to-toe with Maura, and maybe even against Urthblood himself.

Of the other slaves, Fallace and her fellow hedgehogs seem quite content lending Balla a paw down in the cellars, while the mice are more than happy to help out in the orchard, gardens, kitchens, shops or wherever else they are needed. Lekkas is a very take-charge kind of mouse, more at home with hares, otters and squirrels than the more peaceable members of our community. The Abbess may appoint him as one of the Abbey defenders eventually, if only in a coordinator capacity. Lekkas lacks any weapons training, but he has a good head on his shoulders; I hazard that I would willingly take orders from him in a tight situation. The mousemaid Clovis is as kind and gentle a soul as a beast could be, and offered many soothing words to Metellus and Budsock when they first arrived with Deltus. I think she is one of the main reasons those two have adjusted to Abbey life so well. But beneath her soft surface lies the hard core of a born survivor, and she is not shy about showing it when provoked. Several times she has lit into the hares when they've made disparaging comments about Browder in her presence. (All the former slaves remain devoted to that hare, which weighed heavily in Abbess Vanessa's decision to accept Browder into our community, even after that business at Salamandastron last summer.) Clovis also becomes somewhat distressed when anybeast refers to her as a "mousemaid" within her hearing, and has made it very well known that she would prefer we don't. I can't imagine why, but the Abbess assures me there must be a very good reason for it.

Good grief, here there's a major wedding coming up the day after next, and I've just spent an entire afternoon scribbling away in this silly diary of mine! Well, nobeast seems to need me just at the moment, and it is nice and warm up here on the east walltop, basking in the last rays of the lowering sun. So, I'll just scratch out a few more thoughts before the dinner bells sound. Best favor I can do everybeast is to stay out of their way, eh?

Highwing has chosen three young Sparra to join Brother Geoff's classes. It will be interesting, having birds in class alongside all our furred pupils. But if Geoff and I have been able to handle Droge these past few seasons - most of the time, anyway! - we should be able to cope with anything!

We still don't have a stairway up to Warbeak Loft, and won't even resume discussing such a thing until Foremole returns from helping Grayfoot with his tavern, and that might not be until well into summer. It would be a great convenience, everybeast is agreed, but also a tremendous undertaking. Perhaps someday we'll get the confounded thing built. Might be easier now that we have a little extra muscle power these days. Why, we could ferry Kurdyla across to the quarry and just have him hurl the stone we need from there to the Abbey!

Speaking of ferries, Tolar and Roxroy did indeed have their otter helpers leave our raft on our side of the River Moss when they left us after Nameday. None of us have taken advantage of this; things have just been far too busy here. The Sparra have kept an eye on things for us, and they report that the quarry now lies all but abandoned. All the action (and all the cut and fitted stone) has moved to the construction site of Foxguard itself. All the creatures who'd been at the quarry are now there, including the roughly two hundred ferry shrews and their heavily-laden barges which are now all but clogging the river. The latest word we had was that the foundation and basement are completely excavated and lined, and construction is well underway on the above-ground portion of the fortress. Just the building, that is, not the wall; when Highwing dropped in on them, Andrus explained that the outer defensive wall will be built last, since it will have only one entrance and would be too hard to work around. Well, with so many creatures there, I don't think they have to worry about being attacked anytime soon! But soon the whole thing will be built, and Mona will be off to live there, and then I suppose some of us shall have to pay a visit to our new neighbors. I'd like to be among that first delegation from Redwall to visit Foxguard, especially if Roxroy can't manage another visit between now and then. I truly feel I struck up a genuine friendship with that fox, and I look forward to seeing him again when I may.

What will the future bring? Who can say? Lady Mina is concerned by the latest reports of conflict and powerful new searat weapons in use along the western coast, and insists we must be ready if Tratton presses war upon us. The Long Patrols, meanwhile, have not given up on their insistence that Urthblood is the true danger to the lands, which naturally elicits nothing but scoffs of derision from Mina, along with stolid assurances to the contrary from Mona and reminders from some of our newest residents that it was Urthblood's forces which freed them from slavery and inflicted heavy losses upon the searats. The only thing both sides seem to agree on is that war is definitely coming - we're just not sure from which quarter. All I can say, simple otter apprentice Recorder that I am, is that Mossflower seems quite peaceful to me on this day. Gazing out over the battlements at the surrounding countryside, calm and lazy under the fading glow of the westering spring sun, I find it hard to envision that any storm of war is about to break upon our walls, or that any strife is soon to consume these plains and woodlands and shatter the blissful peace I see all about me. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that war may be afoot anywhere in the world on such a day as this ...