Chapter Sixty-One

When Tolomeo clawed his way up out of his delirium, he found his mentor sitting at his bedside.

This being his first return to full consciousness in over a day, Tolomeo spent several moments taking stock of himself and his surroundings. "So, it wasn't a nightmare after all," the mouse murmured, staring down at the outlines of his foreshortened legs beneath the bedcovers.

"No, I'm afraid not," the marten glassblower consoled his apprentice with a paw upon Tolomeo's shoulder. "But the worst is over. You gave us a tense night and morning, though. You went into shock, and understandably so. But Lord Urthblood's healers Brotjer and Esquilin knew just what treatment to administer to ease the strains on your body's system. It's thanks to them that you're still alive, and likely to stay that way now."

"Guess that makes me lucky, then ... "

Trelayne gave his mouse assistant a commiserating pat. "I know you must not feel that way now, but you've just suffered an injury that would be a blow to anybeast's spirit. Give it time ... "

Tolomeo sighed. "I'm not blaming you, Trelayne. Accidents happen. When we started working with so much of the glass vitriol, I knew it would be a dangerous business. I always wondered whether part or even all of me might end up getting burned away by that wicked stuff. At least it wasn't you. Lord Urthblood can get along without me, but he'd be lost without you."

"Don't sell yourself short. We were a team - you, me and Kyslith were a team, and now that team's a member short. It won't be easy getting along without you. Fortunately, we'll have time to get things sorted out, now that the hostilities are over."

Tolomeo's eyes went wide with surprise. "How long was I out?"

"Just about a full day. It's around midnight now, of the night after your injury."

"What about the battle? We ... won? Already?"

"Did we ever!" the marten beamed. "Our victory may have come at a high cost, but it must have been the rout of all routs in the long history of strife between the searats and the Badger Lords of Salamandastron! All four dreadnoughts were destroyed, thanks to the weapons you've been helping me prepare since last season. Only about two hundred rats survived the sinking of those warships, and when they tried to put ashore in front of the mountain, Captain Matowick's lads and lasses sent a few hails of arrows their way to let 'em know they weren't welcome here. They got the message pretty quick, and turned their escape boats northward. Lord Urthblood let 'em go, though he sent out his owl Saugus and a score of the Gawtrybe to shadow them along the coast. He's content to leave them in peace, although if they do come ashore north of here and cause any trouble or bother any goodbeasts, those squirrels have orders to shoot to kill. And then there are the gulls. Now that they've seen how effectively they can fight against the searats, you can bet they'll be tempted to harass those fleeing seavermin all the way out to sea and halfway back to Terramort. Those villains' days of terrorizing the coastlands as they please may well be over after today."

"Well, that's ... good. But like you said, our victory came at a heavy cost ... tho', I must say, it's not as crowded as I'd expect it to be down here after a battle of that scale." Tolomeo's gaze went to the weasel in the bed alongside his. "What's his story?" he asked Trelayne.

"Monda's the only one of our catapult gunners to survive. All the rest were killed, and their catapults destroyed."

"Oh." Tolomeo looked past Monda to the bed beyond, where Tulia lay slumbering deeply, her side heavily bandaged. "And her?"

"Got injured trying to capture the last dreadnought intact for Lord Urthblood, but Tratton sank it himself rather than let us keep it. It was rather touch and go with her for awhile too, but it looks like she's out of the woods now. Four of her fellow otters weren't so lucky."

"Oh," Tolomeo said again, then glanced across the aisle to where several of the beds had been pushed aside to clear a mattress-covered area on the floor for the lamed eagle Altidor to sprawl. "What about him?"

"Took arrows in the wing and leg during a low flyover of one of the searat ships. Klystra and Saugus emerged from the battle relatively unscathed, but several of the seagulls were slain in the attempt to capture the last dreadnought."

"Well, that's between Lord Urthblood and King Grullon, I suppose ... although that ill-mannered gull probably wouldn't care if a hundred of his kin got killed, as long as we keep feeding him." Down the row from Altidor lay a couple of Gawtrybe sporting a variety of splints and dressings. "What happened to them?"

"Depends. Three Gawtrybe were killed and several more injured when one of Tratton's explosive charges hit the main gates. But there were also a number of tunnel collapses and outer wall breaches around on the seaward slopes, and the squirrels got the worst of that too, since it was mainly them Urthblood had guarding all the window slots. There may still be some dead and injured who have yet to be pulled out from under the rubble. But, of the three hundred or so defenders Salamandastron had at the start of this battle, it appears the vast majority weathered this storm with little or no ill effects."

"Doesn't seem like it, from the rundown you just gave me. Guess I am lucky, compared to how I could have ended up. Was there any group in Salamandastron at all that didn't suffer losses?"

Trelayne thought a moment. "I don't believe Captain Tillamook's hedgehogs took any casualties." Then the marten added with a sad smile, "And, if it makes you feel any better, I think you're the only mouse casualty in the entire mountain." A single tear dampened Trelayne's cheek fur. "Tolomeo, I am so sorry. You're not even a soldierbeast. You shouldn't have been in the middle of this ... and you wouldn't have been, if I hadn't dragged you down here from the Northlands ... "

Now it was the crippled mouse's turn to bestow a comforting pat on his master's paw. "It's not your fault, sir. I'm your assistant, remember? Part of your team. It was a battle, and battles can claim combatants and noncombatants alike. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But you said yourself that the weapons I helped you make this past season were what won the battle for us today. Sure, I'd like to have my legs back, but if I helped rid the coastlands of Tratton forever, maybe that's almost a fair trade, eh?"

"There's some brave spirit! As for Tratton being gone for good, that remains to be seen. That armored boat that was holding position far offshore sailed away just before sundown, towing a couple of those tiny steel undersea vessels after it. Lord Urthblood seemed to think Tratton was aboard it, so that searat may very well still be at large. But with so much of his navy now destroyed ... " Trelayne shrugged. "Only time will tell whether we are truly rid of him. But after today, I think he would be mad to try to take on Lord Urthblood again."

"I just hope he crawls back to Terramort with his tail between his legs and stays there, and never defiles our shores again." Tolomeo snuggled down farther below the covers. "Could you please do me a favor, and put a blanket from one of the empty beds across the bottom of mine? My feet are cold."

"Your .. feet?"

"I know it sounds silly, but I can still feel them. I swear I can. And they're cold."

"Of course." Trelayne did as he'd been asked, then gave Tolomeo a parting shoulder pat. "I'm going to get some sleep while there's still some night left. Hold steady, my friend, and I'll see you again in the morning."

00000000000

No official ceremony was held for the replacement of Machus's crystal statue.

Urthblood was wise to have moved the heavy yet fragile glass sculpture inside the fortress, for the mountainside where it normally stood now bore several shallow craters and pulverized boulders to mark the impact sites of Tratton's blast kegs. Trelayne's memorial to the fallen swordfox almost surely would have been destroyed by those near-misses.

The grave itself lay undisturbed, the pedestal above it intact except for a few minor chips and pits from the nearby explosions. The Badger Lord had several of his handybeasts test the integrity and stability of that simple stone platform. Then, satisfied it was still fit to support the statue for which it had been designed, Urthblood had the giant crystal figurine carried back out of the dining hall and down the stairs, out the main and now gateless seaward entrance and back up the south slopes to its former position.

Urthblood and Trelayne were on paw to oversee the re-erecting of the statue in its proper place. Several of the badger warrior's captains turned out for the occasion as well. Matowick and Lieutenant Perricone stood closely side-by-side among a gathering that also included Mattoon, Saybrook and Tillamook.

It was nearly noon of the day following the Searat King's defeat. The assembled creatures were glad for the strong sunshine to offset the cool and constant breeze blowing off the ocean. A faint odor of saltpeter and brimstone hung on the air around Salamandastron, the lingering residue of Tratton's assault that left a stinging, flinty itch in the nostrils. As the steadying pullropes were taken down from the newly-uprighted statue, the sun directly overhead seemed to spear its way into the likeness of Machus and infuse it with the glow of life. Once again Trelayne's artistic masterpiece stood displayed where it was meant to be, the genius of his glass-shaping talent lending all its brilliance to the commemoration of the swordfox's final resting place at the spot where he fell defending his Lord.

And then it was over, this ceremony that wasn't a ceremony in which the only speeches made were the mutters and grunts of the workerbeasts expending their musclepower for the repositioning of the statue. Yet as the hauling ropes were recoiled and borne back down the mountainside atop the carrying pallet, the witness officers stood rooted to their spots, gazing at the splendid memorial standing tall and proud before them. Its restoration to Machus's grave carried a symbolism that nobeast present could ignore.

"Guess it really is over," Saybrook said, giving voice to what all were thinking. "Lord Urthblood wouldn'ta gone to all th' trouble o' havin' that glass fox brought out here again if he s'pected Tratton would be back anytime soon. Looks like we won't be seein' that rat again this season, if ever."

"Let's hope it's never!" snorted Tillamook.

"Aye t' that, mate," seconded Mattoon.

Urthblood addressed his captains. "Let us retire inside for lunch. We will hold the burial and memorial services for your slain comrades around on the east slopes after the midday meal. Captain Matowick, Lieutenant Perricone, stay a moment, please."

While the other captains returned indoors, Matowick and his lieutenant approached the Badger Lord to receive what they were sure would be orders for some task or other. They were in for a most pleasant surprise.

"Yes, My Lord?" Matowick asked expectantly.

"Captain, is it still the desire of you and the Lieutenant here to be wed?"

"Wh-why yes, Lord! Very much so!"

"Most definitely, Lord!" Perri agreed without hesitation.

"Very well. Name the date, and I will arrange the marriage festivities accordingly. Once we have these solemn observances of pain and loss behind us, it will be a welcome change to have a more positive and life-affirming ceremony to which we can all look forward. I will declare it a day of celebration for all of Salamandastron, whenever you decide is best for you."

"Thank you, Lord!" the two squirrels stammered on top of each other.

Urthblood turned and strode toward the tunnel entrance, leaving Matowick and Perricone standing alone on the south slopes. The two Gawtrybe gazed deeply into each other's eyes, breathless as idiot smiles played across their faces. As one, they turned their heads to behold once more the sparkling crystal visage of Machus, which seemed now to almost be winking at them in the noon sun. It had to be their imaginations. Didn't it?

But Urthblood's consent for their wedding drove home to them the reality of the situation even more than the return of this statue out here on the open and exposed mountainside. Things were getting back to normal at Salamandastron ... and then some.

"Saybrook was right, wasn't he?" Perri murmured. "It really is over, isn't it?"

"Aye." Matowick put his paw around his fiance's shoulders. For the first time in a long time, he didn't even notice the ever-present ringing in his ears. "It is. Now let's get inside. We've got some wedding plans to make!"

00000000000

The next morning saw Urthblood up on the plateau before sunrise, seeing off Captain Klystra. The dead had been buried and eulogized, the searats chased away from the environs of Salamandastron, and the wedding date set for his two senior Gawtrybe officers. Now it was time for the Badger Lord to turn his attention inland once more and focus upon his concerns in Mossflower, far from the coastlands.

"Captain," Urthblood addressed the falcon perched on the crater rim before him, "you came to me before this latest battle bearing a request from Captain Tardo at Doublegate asking permission for the inventor bankvole Lorr to dwell there. Please inform Tardo that I would insist upon it, and that I would like to engage Lorr on a special project concerning the underwater searat craft. He is to be granted unrestricted access to that vessel, and you are to show him these ... " The badger tucked a rolled-up parchment into the scroll message tube configured into the breast of Klystra's heavy jerkin. "Once you have completed your errands, return to Salamandastron with Lorr's answer. If he is not willing to place himself in my service, I must know it immediately so that I may assign somebeast else to this task as soon as possible."

"Yes, Lord!" the falcon acknowledged.

"I also want you to fly to Foxguard to receive Andrus's status report," Urthblood continued. "He seemed to think there might be some trouble between him and the Redwallers over the scale of that garrison and observation post, and I am hoping to avoid that. Mostly, however, I am simply interested in how far along Andrus is with construction. If he has anything of great depth or detail to report, have him write it up and send it along with you as a dispatch."

Klystra nodded his understanding. "That all?"

"Also, fly over the Western Plains to make sure Daum and those slaves have crested the mountains all right and are on their way to Redwall in good stead. They know to steer clear of the lair of the Flitch-aye-aye, but we must make sure they encounter no other trouble either. This is snake and toad season, and the warmer weather will also have other vermin and evil-minded creatures out and about. You may wish to stop by Redwall to let the Abbess know more refugees are on their way - I am sure they will reward you for this courtesy with a fine meal, at the very least. I have not dispatched a messenger to Redwall since winter's end, and the only news I have had from there recently was what little you heard from the Guosim when they came by Doublegate."

"As you command, Lord."

"Go now. Keep your eyes and ears sharp, and observe all that is to be seen upon the lands below you. Carry out your assignment with the best speed you can manage, and return as soon as you are able. It will be some days before Commodore Altidor is able to fly again, and I would not be without your service any longer than I must."

"Yes. Will return soon as can, Lord." Klystra spread his wings and flapped away into the rising sun, soaring high to clear the mountains to the east.

Urthblood turned to the center of the plateau, where the giant mirror assembly sat once more, now that the searat threat had been repulsed from these shores. He'd instructed the crew staffing the device what was expected of them. Now he stood aside as the morning's first rays cleared the distant peaks and struck the reflective surface in a blinding glare. The beasts controlling the instrument swiveled the mirror slowly back and forth in its cradle, sending bright shimmers toward the mountaintops. Their orders were to do this from sunrise to noon on every day that the sun shone, until they were told otherwise. They'd not been informed of the reason for this odd task.

Urthblood watched them for a short while to satisfy himself that the job was being carried out adequately, then descended into the mountain. The mirror staff sighed and kept at their work, reflecting the sunlight back toward Mossflower at a height where only birds in flight would possibly be able to see it.