Epilogue I

Extract from the journal of Winokur Otter, Recorder of Redwall Abbey:

It is the Autumn of the Laughing Abbess!

Abbot Arlyn, Brother Geoff and I were debating the name right up until the morning of the feast. This season very nearly became the Autumn of the Harebabes, in honor of the Long Patrol newborns who have recently joined our family. But in the end it was decided that, of all the myriad triumphs and misfortunes we have experienced these past few seasons, it is the fate and condition of our afflicted Abbess which affects us all more profoundly than anything else.

Vanessa still shows no sign of emerging from her childlike state. She seems perfectly healthy and happy in all other respects ... but her current personality and demeanor is so unlike the Vanessa we all knew that it only underscores how truly abnormal the situation is. She is so carefree, mischievous and utterly uninhibited in everything she says and does, it gives Maura fits! Our dear Badger Mother is still adjusting to the idea that our former Abbess now resides under her care, along with the rest of the Abbey youngsters. It is an exceedingly odd state of affairs for us all, but we cope as best we can with both the loss of the wise mouse we once knew and this little hellion who's taken her place. Seldom does a day go by that we don't hear her innocent (and sometimes not so innocent!) laughter, be it echoing through Great Hall and Cavern Hole, chasing up and down the corridors and stairwells, adding to the happy confusion in the kitchens or brightening the Abbey grounds and walltop on fair days. As distressing as her present condition is, few among us can deny that Vanessa's almost manic exuberance and sheer joy of living for the moment has not lifted their spirits at sometime or other this past season. And thus does this autumn have its name.

The absurdity of the situation was compounded by the fact that Vanessa herself could not fathom just who the "laughing Abbess" in question was supposed to be. She harbors no memory whatsoever of her life before her injury, no comprehension that she was ever in fact Abbess or even of her true age. Whenever any of us try to explain this to her, she dismisses us as sillybeasts and runs away laughing.

This latest festival saw not only the naming of the season but of a new Abbot as well. Arlyn officially announced that he would be stepping down as acting Abbot so that he could devote his remaining seasons to helping young Metellus learn the healing arts. Only two days have passed since the feast, and already that old mouse and the badgerchild have spent more hours up in the Infirmary together than I can count. Of course, Arlyn often drops off into his frequent snoozes while Metellus is reading, but then at his age, he's earned every nap!

Our new Abbot is, of course, Brother Geoff, and I think it shall take him longer to get used to being addressed as "Abbot Geoff" than it will for the rest of us to get into the habit of calling him that! I think that fussy historian is the only one among us who can't see that he was the only natural choice to succeed Arlyn, and perfectly suited for the position. Nobeast at Redwall knows more about our ways and history than Geoff, and his seasons as teacher do lend him some air of authority, for all that he may deny it. I suspect that he is secretly thrilled; what wholly dedicated brother or sister of the order doesn't daydream at some time or other about becoming Abbot or Abbess of Redwall? I know how Geoff must feel, a little, since my own name is still frequently tossed around as a candidate for the Abbotship somewhere down the road, and in all honesty I just can't see it. I'd be honored and overjoyed, to be sure, but ... me? Abbot? The idea boggles my mind.

Then again, if you'd told me just a season or two ago that I would now be Redwall's official Recorder, I'd have said you must have been munching on one too many fermented damsons! It is a great responsibility, made all the greater since the Recorder traditionally also serves as the Abbey's primary teacher. I have been keeping my own practice diary for several seasons now, and I have helped Geoff organize and present his lessons for nearly as long, so I suppose I am prepared for this challenge. Our new Abbot will still assist me in the classroom as much as his own increased responsibilities will allow, and that of course will be a big help, as will the fact that our pupils are growing older. In just the past season I've noticed that even Droge and Budsock are conducting themselves with greater maturity; it's hard to believe that in just a few more seasons, they themselves will be near adulthood, ready to take their places of responsibility in Redwall's community. Now if only I could get Vanessa to behave on the days when she bothers showing up for classes at all, and stop inciting our Sparra students Brybag, Harpreet and Skytop to behave even more rambunctiously than their birdish nature leads them to! And, with our new harebabes and no doubt more on the way, I don't suppose my teaching duties will end any season soon!

I have appointed Cyrus to be Redwall's new apprentice Recorder, and he was thrilled! He and Cyril will continue to serve as our official bellringers, since no two surer pair of paws are to be found anywhere in the Abbey. It will feel funny, since as of a few days ago Cyrus and I were still both assisting Geoff with his lessons, to now have Cyrus as my own teacher's aid. I can only hope he proves as helpful to me as the two of us were to Geoff. At least Cyrus seems to know what he wants to do with his life, which is more than can be said for his older sibling. Cyril continues to wear squirrel-style tunics, refusing to go back to his green novice's habit robes, and I have heard him say he is not even sure he considers himself a novice of the Redwall order at all anymore! He spends more and more time these days with us otters and Alexander's squirrels, learning how to spar and shoot. His competence in both areas remains questionable, although his determination seems genuine; many times he has quit his warrior's training in disgust over his fledgling abilities, only to be right back at it the very next morning. It is clear that he still misses Broggen terribly, and I suspect he dedicates himself to military practice largely out of respect to that stoat's memory. Nobeast here will begrudge him that, and if he truly seeks a warrior's life, I will do all I can to encourage him.

Whether his warrior skills will ever have need to be called upon is quite another matter. The Guosim returned just in time for Nameday, as Log-a-Log had promised, after having made a thorough circuit of Mossflower to the north, and they report nothing amiss anywhere in that region. Likewise, when Tolar and Roxroy and several of their fellow swordfoxes arrived for Nameday, they bore tidings that Foxguard's wall has at last been completed, and their fortress now stands as a fastness of almost impenetrable quality. (They have invited some of the Abbey leaders - which now includes me, I have to keep reminding myself - to a feast at Foxguard to celebrate its completion and further formalize ties between them and Redwall. I hope to attend that affair, since it will allow me to see Roxroy once more. That fox has become one of my very best friends, and even though he only left yesterday to return to Foxguard, I was sad at our parting and miss him already.) Meanwhile, our hare and squirrel and Sparra patrols continue to uncover no sign of an enemy anywhere in nearby Mossflower or the Western Plains. Snoga and his followers will never trouble anybeast again ... and then there is the matter of Tratton and Urthblood.

Not long after Log-a-Log came to us last summer to let us know everything about Doublegate, Snoga, Hanchett and Lorr, Urthblood's falcon captain Klystra appeared on our ramparts to announce that an accord had indeed been signed by those two great adversaries. Many of us were incredulous, not only that two such longstanding enemies could reach any kind of formal agreement but also that they could do so after the Doublegate incident. But, in spite of everything and against all historical precedent, the searats and Salamandastron are now at peace.

What does this startling and most unlikely development portend for the future? I for one am at a loss to say, and the profusion of different viewpoints all around me does little to sort this matter out in my mind. Colonel Clewiston and many of the Long Patrols point to this as proof that Urthblood always meant to make common cause with Tratton, and that now he and the searats will be free to subjugate the lands to their united tyranny. Lady Mina, meanwhile, being the only one among us who actually helped Urthblood fight the searats during his Northland campaigns, is clearly having trouble reconciling a peace with the same creatures she once slew in numbers as enemies of all decent folk. But of all Redwallers, I think it is the former slaves of the searats who are most conflicted over this. They, after all, are the only members of our community who have suffered directly under the lash of the searats, knowing firstpaw their tortures and other unpleasantness, seeing some of their friends killed for sport in the most gruesome ways (some of their stories from that timber mill have turned my stomach), and spending long seasons under the soul-crushing yoke of forced labor. I have heard both Lekkas and Tourki the late-arriving otter curse Urthblood's name outright for daring to come to any kind of terms at all with the seavermin who treated them thus. Kurdyla, who is finally walking on his own again (although he still uses a cane), was nearly as riled, and even the usually mild-mannered Clovis had some unkind things to say about the Badger Lord.

Yet even these denouncements came with tears in their eyes and very mixed emotions on their faces. Urthblood was, after all, the one whose forces liberated them from the lumber mill and the slave galley in the first place. They have seen with their own eyes that he will not hesitate to unleash wholesale destruction upon Tratton if he feels it necessary. And with these new weapons that have come into play - on both sides - they know as well as any of us that an all-out war between Urthblood and Tratton would prove ruinous beyond imagining; what happened at Doublegate is proof enough of that. But there is one factor even greater than this which hits close to home for them, and that is the provision in the accord which frees every slave in searat claws. How can anybeast, much less a former slave, take issue with a treaty which delivers so many innocent woodlanders from such cruel bondage?

None of these newly-released slaves have made it to our gates yet - indeed, Klystra told us it may take seasons before every last slave in Tratton's vast empire see its freedom - but we were informed to expect at least some of them before season's end. The first batch have already departed from Salamandastron, but as they are taking the long way around to the south of the mountain range rather than braving the treacherous high pass directly over it, it may be some time yet before we see them here. Where we are going to house them all - especially if this preliminary trickle turns into a flood by next spring - poses no small quandary, but it is not in our nature to turn away anybeast in need, especially ones who have suffered so. Room will be found, even if every slave freed from Tratton's talons decides to settle at our Abbey; this Arlyn swore before stepping down as Abbot, and it is an oath he made Geoff promise to uphold as well. Perhaps it is time to expand the dormitory tunnels we built for the Long Patrol last autumn ...

At least we will not have to put up the Gawtrybe who will be coming to Mossflower. On Captain Klystra's latest visit, just a few days before Nameday, that falcon bore a dispatch from Urthblood to Mina informing her that many of her fellow squirrel archers are to be reassigned to Mossflower, now that they will no longer be needed at Salamandastron in such force. He said it was to bolster the security of the inner lands, which has left many of us scratching our heads in puzzlement; Redwall is as strong as it has ever been, and with Foxguard standing sentinel alongside us for as far as the eye can see, I cannot imagine why Urthblood would feel the need to send any additional forces our way. Fortunately, it will not be any immediate concern of ours, since they will be stationed at Foxguard and Grayfoot's Tavern. At least it will give Mina a chance to socialize with some of her fellow Gawtrybe, without having to travel all the way out to the coast or up north to her home forest. As much as she enjoys the company of our Mossflower Patrols, and as deeply as she loves Alexander, I suspect she misses her kinfolk more than she shows, and this should provide at least some tonic to any pangs of homesickness she might be feeling.

Alex and Mina remain childless, although I am sure it is not through lack of trying; those two are so open in their public displays of affection, I can only imagine what goes on at night behind their closed bedroom door. (Or perhaps I'd better not - three raps on the noggin with your own rudder, you naughty otter!) In a way, I suppose it's for the best. Mina prides herself in staying in top physical form, and relishes her breakneck flights through the treetops whenever she goes out on patrol with Alex. In all honesty, I almost can't envision her ever being in a family way - she's just too much the warrior. But, I'm sure the day will arrive eventually when she will present Alex with a strapping son or beautiful daughter, and on that day Redwall will celebrate as it seldom has before.

But, while we're waiting for that happy day to arrive, the hares will do their part to keep us in babes. Melanie gave birth to a hale and hearty son, and named him Lysander - which, it turns out, was the name of her first husband, Mizagelle and Givadon's father, who was slain by searats back in the days when Lord Urthfist ruled Salamandastron. Lysander joins Chevelle, Faylona and Troyall as the next generation of Long Patrol at Redwall. We were all a little worried about Mel, going through pregnancy and the rigors of childbirth at her age, but she weathered the trial like the trooper she is, glowing with a radiant joy all during her term (not counting those bouts of morning sickness) and delivering her newborn with the spirit of a hare half her age. She and the Colonel haven't indicated yet whether they might try for another - our newest dad was so elated over finally becoming a father that his ears were twisted up into a happy knot that entire first day, and he's still walking on air! - but we will not have to wait so long for our family to grow further. Mizagelle is pregnant again, and so Chevelle will have a brother or sister by the time winter arrives. Mizzy and Browder certainly didn't waste any time! And thus does the new generation come up to supplant the old ...

Another babe dwells in our hearts as well, even if he does not reside here at Redwall. Grayfoot and Judelka brought Percival up for Nameday, and that feisty ferret toddler is as adorable as anybeast could be! Pearce, or Percy, was surely the hit of this season's festival, stealing even the harebabes' thunder. He's fully walking on his own now - fates preserve us when our own long-eared brood get to that age in another season or so! - and was into positively everything! The Abbey children couldn't get enough of him, doting upon him like he was their adopted brother, Droge and Budsock and Pirkko especially. It did all our hearts good to see the expression of gratified joy on the retired captain's face when he saw how his son had been embraced by our community; he was immensely proud, and moved almost to tears, although of course he claimed it was just a bit of windblown debris in his eye. Judelka remains ... well, Judelka, as detached and impassive as always. In a way I think it's good that there will soon be some Gawtrybe staying with Grayfoot at his inn; that ferret could surely use some help raising Percy, and as much as it pains me to say it, I don't think he's going to get it from his wife.

So here we are as we embark upon yet another season. A time to reflect back on all we have gained - and lost - this past summer. Perhaps the losses of Hanchett and Lorr will not be felt quite so keenly as those of Aurelia and Broggen, but they were Redwallers too, or at least part of our extended family in Lorr's case, and both will be sorely missed by those who knew them best. And, in a very real sense, we have also lost the very Abbess for whom this season is named. At least there is still a chance, however small, that Vanessa might someday return to her senses and once more become the sensible and inspiring mouse we all knew for so long. She is still alive, after all, and as long as there's life there's hope.

But, alas, we must proceed as if our old beloved Abbess is gone forever. Redwall needs sure and wise guidance, especially in these uncertain times. Thus, Geoff is now Abbot, I am now Recorder and teacher, Cyrus is my apprentice ... and so it goes. At least there has been no changing of the guard amongst our longstanding defenders: Alex and Mina and the Forest Patrol, Colonel Clewiston and the Long Patrol, Skipper Montybank and his otters, Highwing and the Sparra who overfly our lands so diligently, our ever-dependable Foremole and his mole crews, Friar Hugh and his kitchen staff, Balla and her cellar helpers ... Yes, for all that we have lost these past two seasons, we still have so much for which to be thankful. Blessings almost beyond counting, as I am reminded everytime I stand up before my class and behold the burning light of youthful enthusiasm in the sparkling eyes of my pupils, everytime I sit down to table and find yet another of Hugh's scrumptious dishes before me, and everytime I go for an amble across the Abbey grounds, a stroll along the ramparts or a dip in the pond. My father Warnokur was a born wanderer, and I must confess that in my younger days I could see the attraction of such an adventurous existence. Now, however, I could never leave this wonderful place. Why would anybeast want to risk the hazards of the wider world when everything they could possibly want - delicious food, fine clothes, comfortable beds, and more love and friendship than a goodbeast's heart could hope to hold - is to be found right here within our steadfast walls?

We have foxes to the east of us, their mighty tower altering our world by its mere presence in our sky, and these beasts we call friends. We have a ferret family to our south, and they too we call friends, their babe having stolen our hearts. And to the west dwells the badger who has dared what no Lord or Lady of his species ever did before: to make peace with his ancient enemy, so that peace might have a chance to flourish where previously only the ravages of war held sway. I do not know if Urthblood can make such a peace work - the challenge might exceed even his force of will and great power - nor do I know whether he might have less than honorable motives in all of this that have yet to be revealed to us. But perhaps it is not necessary for us to try to divine what mysterious designs reside within that heavily fated creature of destiny.

My father served Lord Urthblood willingly, and died for that badger - and my Dad was not easily hoodwinked, worldly otter that he was. Mina remains unshakably loyal to Urthblood, and she is a beast of high honor. As was Machus, and as is Abellon, and Tillamook, and Klystra and Altidor. And while the defection of the Northland otters is a matter of some concern, for I hold a deep respect for Captain Saybrook, I also respect and trust the judgment of Log-a-Log, and in spite of what happened at Castle Marl, he would still pledge himself and the Guosim as Urthblood's ally in time of need. So many good creatures cannot be wrong, no matter what our hare friends say. Urthblood may have overstepped the bounds of what was appropriate when he used poison vapors as a weapon, but he has now lost his otters as a result of that miscalculation, and has surely learned not to use such weapons again. I still believe he stands as a protector of these lands, due to the quality of creatures he commands if not to his own character.

Or so I hope.

It will be interesting to see whether his great experiment - peace with the searats - can possibly work. If it does, we might just have sidestepped the great crisis he first warned us about five season ago. If not, well, then I don't suppose we'll be any great deal worse off than we were before. A golden age, or the great upheaval? Time will tell ... but whichever way the scales of fate tip, Redwall will stand ready to face the challenges of whatever the future throws our way, just as we always have.

Interesting times, indeed.