Happy Holidays! Here's some fluff!
A/N: So this is woefully belated, as updates go, but I'm afraid this story's going to be in the making for a very long time. I do want to finish it, but there's life and other ambitions and also laziness, so when that will ultimately happen is a complete and utter mystery. That being said, I hope you enjoy the chapters whenever they may be posted, and mostly have fun with Martin and Rose in this new and very much alive adventure!
[a season in Noonvale]
It took the Fur and Freedom Fighters four days to reach Noonvale, burdened as they were with great numbers and plentiful wounded and unable to take advantage of the Broadstream, which regrettably flowed in the opposite direction. Rose had been awake and alert for much of the third day, and to Brome's relief, she had consumed a hare-worthy quantity of food—a positive sign that she was well and truly on the road to recovery. On the fourth day, she had taken to walking; she'd only been carried on the stretcher for her weariness and general unconsciousness, not because she had any injuries to her footpaws. Aided by her brother's steadying grip, she limped along next to Grumm and Keyla, who bore her stretcher and kept a watchful eye on her as well, just in case she required their assistance again.
But the mousemaid persevered, tottering on with only Brome to keep her from listing side to side, and while she tired soon after their lunch break, she politely refused her friends' suggestions to return to the stretcher, as she wanted to re-enter Noonvale on her own two paws.
And as afternoon faded slowly and languidly into evening, she did just that.
"Home again," she murmured to her brother, and she glanced at him sidelong with a smile. "Looks like I brought you back, after all."
He returned the grin and helped her navigate the tumbling slopes of the valley, guiding her around trees and half-buried boulders until they and all the Fur and Freedom Fighters stood within sight of the village proper—the humble dwellings, the neat orchards, the flourishing gardens, and the chuckling rivulet winding through the middle.
The molebabe Bungo caught sight of them first, and he waved a tiny ax in the air. "Them's retoorned!" he yelled happily, throwing himself towards his uncle. "'Ook, Nuncle Grumm, oi chopped it oop all small!"
Grumm surveyed the remains of the dead sycamore, which had likely been severed by much stronger creatures, but nevertheless ruffled his tiny companion's head-fur with a heavy digging claw. "Hurr, oo surrpintly did!"
As the two moles conversed, the other residents of Noonvale had been roused by the young one's shout, and they emerged from their homes and abandoned their chores to welcome the victorious army. Amid the cheering, Urran Voh and Aryah pushed themselves through the clustered masses and stopped short upon the sight of their children—worse for the wear but very much alive.
Tears flooded down Aryah's face as she embraced her son and daughter, and Urran Voh tried bravely not to make too much of a scene but was unable to check every droplet that leaked from his eyes. Aryah first kissed Brome's cheeks and then Rose's, chattering at them breathlessly and laying gentle paws on her daughter's injuries.
"Oh, thank the seasons you've both come home! I was worried sick the entire time, and longer for you, young Brome! Don't ever frighten me like that again! Oh, Rose, dear, what's happened to you? Are you alright? Brome, did you make sure your sister's alright? You'll be fine, won't you, Rose? Oh, I'm so happy to see both!"
As she caught them both in another fierce hug, Brome and Rose patted her on the back with their own vision blurring with happy tears. "Yes, Mama, we're home," Rose told her with a watery smile, and she added with a hint of humorous reproach, "I promised we would be, after all."
Urran Voh pressed a kiss to his daughter's brow and then turned to his son, who nervously shuffled his footpaws.
"I'm sorry, Papa," Brome said quietly, his expression rumpled with obvious regret. "I put everyone, especially poor Rose, in such danger. It won't happen again."
The Patriarch studied him for a discomfiting interval, and then he dragged the young mouse into a hug and said gruffly, "That doesn't matter now, son. All that matters is that you're home and your sister's home and we can forever be at peace."
Ballaw and Rowanoak, still acting commanders of the Fur and Freedom Fighters, identified the silver mouse as the leader and approached him. Performing a leggy bow and an awkward curtsy, respectively, the hare and badger introduced themselves and explained their situation.
"I'm afraid we've got lots of wounded but mostly just lots of creatures," Rowanoak informed the Patriarch. "Many of these poor souls were slaves at Marshank and have no home to return to after the long seasons. We were hoping that they would be able to settle in here and become part of your village, if that wouldn't be disruptive."
"Nonsense," Urran Voh dismissed. "All peaceful creatures are welcome in Noonvale! And it's summer still, so there's plenty of time to get everyone settled before winter. Allow me to help you…"
As the Patriarch and the commanders bustled off to shift the army into temporary accommodations and otherwise plan for the long haul, Aryah clasped her daughter's free paw. "As long as creatures are settling, let's get you to your room, young miss! It's just as you left it, of course, and you must be exhausted from the journey."
"Wait, Mama," Rose protested, not yet allowing the mousewife to lead her off, and she looked around as much as she could with her neck still so swollen. "Where's Martin? I want to see him settled first."
Aryah hid a smile at her daughter's clear attachment to the Warrior, and she turned questioning eyes to Brome. "Have you seen Martin, son? I suppose he might've wandered off whilst we were all reuniting…"
The Healer shook his head solemnly. "I'm afraid Martin's not wandering anywhere anytime soon," he said, and he escorted his mother and sister over to the Warrior's stretcher. Aryah drew her breath in sharply at the startling sight of him, and Brome explained, "He's developed a fever, no doubt due to his injuries. He hasn't woken once since the battle. Without question, he's the most severe case we have."
"We must get him inside at once," Aryah declared, and she positioned herself at one end of the stretcher. "Well, Brome, help your old mother! I can't carry him single-pawed!"
Rose watched with a mixture of amazement and amusement as her family gathered Martin up and bore him into their home, taking him down the hall to the guest room he'd occupied before. Mother and son carefully shifted the Warrior onto the bed, where he lay slurring incomprehensibly in the throes of fever. Brome checked that Martin had not bled through his bandages yet, and then he hurriedly excused himself, having other patients to attend.
Rose pulled a chair to his bedside with some difficulty, and Aryah eyed her. "You need rest, dear."
"I just want to sit with him a bit," the mousemaid countered, and she reached out with her unbound paw to brush against Martin's, which were still tightly wrapped on his sword. "Can you help me move this blade? He might start to thrash if he's got a fever, and he certainly doesn't need any more injuries."
Between their three paws, they managed to wrest Martin's from the hilt; his paws curled back immediately, as if they still wanted to cling to the sword, but he otherwise gave no indication of his awareness. Rose placed the weapon on the top of a nearby chest of drawers, and then she installed herself in the chair with enough flourish to suggest that no attempt to remove her on her mother's part would work.
Aryah sighed, but she was half-smiling at the sight of her determined and devoted daughter scooting closer so as to reach her Warrior's paws with her own. "If the threat of war could not keep you from his side, I don't see how the threat of me could," she remarked in response to Rose's unspoken challenge.
The mousemaid returned a flickering smile, her eyelids half-lowered in weariness. "I'm afraid we're all quite stubborn in this family," she quipped in reply.
Aryah came close and pressed a final kiss to the top of Rose's head. "He has a good heart, and he is honest and brave," she said quietly, catching her daughter's gaze with her own fond one. "But mostly, dear, he makes you happy. A mother could not ask for more."
Rose lifted her brows in surprise. "I thought you and Papa didn't approve. Not that it would've stopped me," she added with a trace of cheeky grin.
"Your father did not approve," Aryah corrected, "but only, I think, because he did not want to see you hurt. Now that you are home safe…" She trailed off with a shrug.
Rose's smile faded as she turned back to her Warrior's still form. "Well, Martin will have to wake up first," she said, rather more somberly.
"He will," Aryah said confidently. "He has you to come back to."
The mousemaid lowered her head to the mattress at Martin's side, her eyes closing as her exhaustion demanded and obtained its toll. "Thank you, Mama…" she murmured.
Aryah crept out silently, not wishing to wake either young creature, but after a time she retrieved her own chair and her embroidery and set up camp in the hallway. Urran Voh found her like this when he returned several hours later, just keeping vigil in the hall.
"Darling, what are you doing?" he inquired, glancing in the room and then back to his wife. "The foebeasts have been routed; you hardly need to keep watch."
Aryah paused, the needle halfway pulled through the cloth, and ultimately confessed, "Part of me still doesn't believe she's here, that she's safe and alive." She looked up at Urran Voh with troubled eyes. "Did you see those bruises? And they're healing, so they must've been much worse…"
"Hush," the Patriarch ordered her gently. "Do not dwell on that which did not happen. Do not think such evil thoughts. Think instead on how your family is reunited, on how happy we shall all be."
Aryah nodded. "Yes, of course. Sometimes I forget how wise you are."
Urran Voh chuckled as he ambled back along the hall. "At least I can still surprise you."
It was another week before Martin reclaimed consciousness, and in that time Rose completed most of her own recuperation. Her bruises had faded from purple to a rather ghastly yellow, but that was mostly hidden by her fur now that the swelling had reduced, in part due to time but also due to daily trips to the stream, where Aryah had lain smooth, chilled river rocks on the mass of bumps. The cut on the back of her head had long since scabbed over, and now she was fighting the urge to scratch at it every five minutes as the healing continued its prickling process.
And she had attended to her Warrior with little regard for her own recovery, bathing his brow and changing his bandages and feeding him nourishing broths, to the point where Brome and Aryah had appointed themselves as her personal watch and reminded her to eat and sleep when she was too preoccupied to notice the need.
Just now she had checked one of his smaller wounds only to find the flesh completely closed and on its way to becoming a fine old warrior's scar. She removed the bandage for the final time and set it aside, proceeding on to the next one when he stirred.
She stilled, as if she'd been sighted by a predator, and simply stared at him wide-eyed as she waited breathlessly for another movement.
Martin shifted again, and then, one lid rising more slowly than the other, he opened his eyes.
Her heart paused expectantly in her chest.
He blinked, his eyes coming into sharper focus as he did so, and he frowned up at the ceiling, not expecting to see it when the last thing he remembered was the bloodied stone walls of Marshank. Drawing in a deep breath and holding it, he glanced around with a warrior's wariness, only to have the air pushed out of his lungs when he saw her.
"Rose?" he croaked, his voice hoarse with disuse.
Unbidden, tears filled her eyes, and she clasped his paw with both of hers and laughed. "Yes, you silly beast, it's me. Welcome back!"
He returned her smile, more with his eyes than his lips, as he was still quite tired, and glanced around again. "We're in Noonvale?" he surmised, having recognized the room.
"Yes, along with Grumm and Pallum and about half the army," she told him. "It's been almost two weeks since the battle—you had me worried for a while there!"
"Two weeks?" he echoed incredulously, and he tried to push himself up on his elbows, but he did not yet possess the strength. "So long?"
She shrugged. "Well, you gave Badrang quite a beating, as I've heard it told, but he apparently returned the favor."
Martin lay there, recalling the horrors of that battle, and shook his head slightly. "I thought he'd killed you, Rose. I really thought he'd killed you."
"It seems fortune smiled upon me," she remarked evasively with another shrug, and she twisted at the waist and retrieved his sword from the chest. "And here's your father's blade. I had to pry it from your paws, but don't worry, I didn't let my father confiscate it."
He reached out to lay a paw against the hilt, and then he shifted his paw sideways to rest upon hers, instead. "It is good to be back, Rose," he said softly.
"And it's good to have you back, Martin the Warrior," she replied.
Summer was drawing towards autumn, but Martin's convalescence was a long and arduous process. Even with his various bouts with fever concluded and his wounds fading into scars, he was still far from his former strength, and to that end he spent his time roaming about the valley with Rose, first with her assistance and later simply with her company. He had taken to carrying his sword with him at all times, and to his surprise, Urran Voh had not objected at the idea; it seemed the Patriarch was willing to grant the Warrior this one concession, perhaps in light of his victory over tyranny, perhaps out of an understanding as to the sword's real meaning.
It was still heavy to his paws, though, akin to when he had been a much younger mouse, and he hardly ever drew it, even to hold it. For now it lay on the grass beside him, reflecting the bright summer sun as much the stream, into which they had dangled their footpaws. Rose had been humming a lazy melody as they walked, and she continued absentmindedly doing so, leaning back on her paws as she kicked her footpaws in the sparkling water.
It was idyllic. It was wonderful.
But Martin could not contain a sigh, and he winced as Rose acknowledged it.
"Martin, what's wrong? Are your injuries acting up?"
He shook his head, grimacing as he stared at his paws, which lay twisted in his lap. "No, 'tis not that." He shook his head again, more fiercely this time. "'Tis nothing at all. Forget it."
She fixed him with a Look. "Alright, now you have to tell me."
He stubbornly held his silence, and Rose studied him with concern and a measure of critical intensity. At length, she glanced away, across the chuckling waters, and whispered, "You're not happy here, are you?"
He shut his eyes, but he might as well have shouted an affirmation, as she understood instantly.
"Ah," she breathed, and then to his bewilderment, she exhaled a laugh and grinned. "Well, let's just say I suspected this might happen."
"You did?" he wondered, staring at her in utter confusion.
"Of course I did," she replied, shoving him lightly and playfully in the shoulder. "You're the bold warrior and the restless wanderer. I didn't think you'd take to the peaceful and settled life so easily. I figured you'd want to go traveling again once you recovered, to go off and have more adventures and fight for new causes. Your warrior's blood isn't tamed yet, I reckon. So," she concluded with an easy shrug, "the only real question is where will we be going?"
Martin regarded her sternly. "We?"
Rose stifled a giggle at his serious expression. "Of course 'we', silly. Why on earth would I let you go off by yourself? As Ballaw would say, it's a flippin' ridiculous idea, eh wot!"
He spread his paws expansively, as if he wanted to encompass the whole valley in the gesture. "But all the time we were gone, you wanted to be home in Noonvale! Why would you be so willing to leave now—how could you be? I thought you wanted nothing more than to be home."
Her merriment fading, the mousemaid gazed into the depths of the stream once more. She appeared to be wrestling for the right words, so he patiently waited out her silence. Eventually, she confessed, "I did want to come home, and here we are in Noonvale like I always wanted, yes. But…" She sighed and cast him the briefest of sidelong glances. "But if you left, and I didn't go with you…oh, Martin, this wouldn't be home anymore."
"Rose…" he breathed, deeply touched by the sentiment in those words.
"What can I say, Warrior?" she said lightly. "For not trying at all, you've certainly charmed me."
He gathered one of her paws in both of his in an earnest grip. "I am so glad you feel that way," he told her, the sincerity plain in his eyes as they caught and held hers. "I would have stayed here for you, truly I would have. I was just hoping there could be a way where neither of us had to be miserable, and then you supply the answer." He smiled faintly. "Of course you had the answer." Something else occurred to him, causing him to frown. "But what about your family? They will not wish to see you go again."
"I think they'll understand, given enough time," she replied. "Besides, you aren't fit to travel yet, if you don't mind my saying so. We probably couldn't leave until mid-autumn, anyway."
He nodded musingly as he idly caressed the back of her paw. "Aye, I suppose that's true."
Rose waited until he lifted his eyes back to hers, an air of sudden seriousness lingering about her, and he blinked at the intensity in her hazel irises. "But if I am to go with you, Martin, you must promise to do one thing before we leave."
"Anything, Rose. What is it?"
She smiled, a subtle curve.
A month had passed since Martin and Rose had announced their intentions, and on a fine autumn morning, Martin woke from his slumber with a smile already twisting his lips. It only grew wider as he rose from bed and observed the special robe hanging over the back of his chair, and her words to him that day by the stream echoed in his head, as sweet as any song she'd ever sung.
Marry me, Martin.
He'd agreed to her terms and chided her for beating him to the punch, and she'd laughed, clear as bells, and he'd kissed her brow and held onto her paws as if he'd never let go.
And now it was their wedding day, and he shook the sleep from his muscles and the wrinkles from the robe. It was a fine thing, rich dark blue with a vertical band of bright cerulean down the center, and he fastened it at the waist with a white canvas belt, through which he thrust his sword. He'd spent the previous day polishing the blade until it shone like a mirror, at least the parts that weren't rusted, and he was very pleased with the effect. It fit his paw well now, too; he'd recovered all his old strength and then some in the past month, and he felt as if he could take on the entire world, especially with the knowledge that Rose would be forever at his side.
Hastily washing his face and paws in a basin of chilly water, Martin combed his fur as neatly as it would lay and fairly skipped out of his room, only to be accosted by Aryah in the hallway.
"Sorry, dear! Can't see the bride before the wedding," she reminded him, and she propelled him in the opposite direction. "You'll have to take your breakfast over at Pallum's."
"Mama, you're being ridiculous," Rose called from the kitchen.
"A little extra luck won't go amiss, considering your grand adventuring plans!" Aryah retorted with a no-nonsense expression that, while Rose couldn't see it, she could probably hear it in her mother's tone.
Martin offered her a small bow. "I shall leave directly," he told her with a grin, although he shouted past her, "See you at the wedding then, Rose! I'll be the one you're marrying!"
"Aye, I'll try not to confuse you with some other beast," she replied with laughter audible in her voice.
Chuckling, he ambled out the back door and into the still-strong autumn sunlight. They had been planning to hang flowers all about for the impending nuptials, but as it turned out, nature was on their side and had done all the decorating for them. All the trees had burst into colorful life: brilliant crimsons, fiery oranges, and bold yellows, and the villagers had strung similarly hued ribbons between the trunks and branches, creating an almost effortless effect. Many creatures, who were preparing for the ceremony, waved and called and nodded to Martin, who returned their greetings as he walked to Pallum's home.
The hedgehog had set up in a new small house close to Grumm's lodgings, as the two had become thick as thieves during their adventure and remained inseparable. As Martin stepped onto the stoop and knocked on the door, he heard Grumm's molespeech interspersed with Pallum's slight slang.
"Who be thur?"
"I'll be the one askin', as 'tis my house an' all!" the hedgehog admonished. "C'mon in, 'ooever you are!"
Martin poked his head inside the door and adopted a worried look. "I don't know—is a friendly beast welcome in these parts?"
His two friends jumped up from their breakfast and practically dragged him to the table, patting him on the back and shaking him by the paw.
"Hurr, you'm the loickiest cri'ture in the worl', Marthen! Marryin' Miz Roser! Burr aye, that's loicky! She'm a roight wunnerful maid an' th' best friend Oi could e'er 'ave 'ad!"
"Sit down, mate, an' eat! The vittles ain't too fancy, what with the big ol' feast later an' all, but it's still something to stick in yer stummick!" Pallum part-explained, part-apologized, and part-boasted as he installed the Warrior at table. "Cranberry scones with sliced candied almonds and fresh meadowcream, aye, and some mint tea, or mayhaps you're more in the mood for raspberry cordial? I've got both, mate!"
Martin selected a scone, still piping hot from the oven—Grumm's oven, no doubt—and nodded towards the steaming teapot. "I'll have some of that, mate. 'Tis a bit brisk this morning, but I'm sure 'twill warm once the sun's good and high."
Pallum poured him a cup while the Warrior slathered cream on his scone and all but devoured it. "Aye, still a summer sun, that un. We'll be good'n'toasty for the ceremony, though there'll be quite the fire in Council Lodge for th' feast, I reckon!"
The meal continued on much like this until all three had eaten their fill, and Martin dusted some crumbs off his fine robe and got up. "Well, mates, I'll see you soon. Still got some stuff to square away before 'tis time."
They waved him off, and Martin stepped back outside, craning his neck to peer up into the sky. He wandered a ways off, looking up into every gap in the trees' autumnal attire, but he never seemed to find what he sought. At length, he began pacing anxiously near the felled sycamore until someone else's sharp eyes located his goal.
"Oh, 'tis Boldred!" a squirrel called down from a nearby elm, where he had been hanging some last-minute bunting.
"Finally," Martin muttered, and he raced to meet his feathered friend. "Boldred! Don't scare a mouse like that on his wedding day—I was afraid you wouldn't be here in time!"
The short-eared owl fixed one of her huge amber eyes on the Warrior. "Dear Martin, 'tis not even noontide yet. I'm here in plenty of time, thank you."
He lowered his head in an apologetic bow. "I'm sorry, Boldred, that was awfully rude of me. I'm just—"
"Nervous?" the owl supplied with a wink.
Martin frowned at her. "No, not nervous," he replied, puzzled. "I'm marrying Rose; what could possibly make me nervous about that?"
Boldred clucked her beak in something like a laugh. "Well, then you're a rare fortunate creature, indeed, little Warrior. Perhaps you're just excited, or you just want everything to be perfect?"
He considered that and acquiesced. "Now that sounds about right. So…?"
"Here they are," she said, extending a yellow taloned leg, about which was bound a leather pouch. "It's good you asked enough in advance. They weren't easy to make, what with the intricate design you wanted and all." She put her head on one side and observed him closely. "But as I recall, Martin, you announced your engagement to the mousemaid four weeks ago, yet you requested these six weeks ago?" She tipped him another wink. "So sure she'd say yes, mm?"
Martin untied the pouch and began undoing the drawstring holding it shut. "Some things you just know, marm," he replied with an easy shrug, and he dumped the pouch's contents into his upturned paw. Two silver rings tumbled out, one of them a fairly simple band, unornamented except for their names inscribed onto the inside, but the other was a work of art. It was, appropriately, a rose, curled around into a circle so that the flower was situated where the gemstone would be, and Boldred had fashioned it with cunning exactitude: petals, leaves, even tiny little thorns. If it hadn't been made of metal, Martin would've sworn that it was merely a very small specimen.
"It's stunning," he breathed, looking at the shining ring from all angles and marveling at the craftsmanship.
Boldred shrugged modestly. "It had to be beautiful enough for your bride, which let me tell you, certainly raised the bar!"
Martin slipped the rings back into their pouch for safekeeping until the ceremony and smiled up at the large bird. "Thank you again, marm. You could not have done a better job; they're absolutely perfect."
She waved a dark wing at him. "You're welcome, little Warrior. Now you must have something to do before 'tis time, eh?"
He frowned thoughtfully and then, abruptly, he smacked his paw into his forehead. "Oh, yes, I have to—see you at the wedding, Boldred!" he called back over his shoulder as he hurried off.
The owl chuckled and preened her feathers a bit. "Hard to believe he nearly killed that stoat with his bare paws, he's so happy and light now."
Everybeast crowded into the clearing outside Council Lodge, where the ceremony was to take place, and everybeast truly meant everybeast: Starwort and Marigold and their crew; Queen Amballa and a select retinue of pygmy shrews; the river shrews and the big hedgehogs; and of course all the old and new residents of Noonvale. Boldred's husband Horty had arrived with their daughter Emalet, who was big enough to fly such a distance now, and the three owls perched atop the lodge's roofline, looking down upon the proceedings with interest.
Martin waited beneath a natural arch in the trees, which had been festooned with brass bells and trailing ribbons in addition to the trees' autumnal finery. As Patriarch of Noonvale, Urran Voh was to conduct the ceremony, and he cut an impressive figure, all silver-furred with his flowing sage-green robes and solemn expression. Grumm was much less regal as he hovered behind the Warrior in his self-appointed role as best mole, still clutching his ladle, which he had wrapped with a ribbon to make it more suited for nuptials.
Brome and Barkjon had claimed seats in the front row, and they chattered amiably along with all the other creatures until Ballaw's voice rang out clearly above the gentle hubbub.
"I say, good chaps an' chapesses, your attenshun, please! If you'd please turn your good selves over this way and hearken to me as I announce—"
"De Quincewold, that's quite enough," came Rowanoak's reprimanding baritone. "This isn't your wedding!"
Ballaw turned an affronted look upon his old friend, and then he stumped off, ever-indignant.
The badger shook her striped head, and her grin melted into a smile. "Alright, then. Rose, if you're ready, dear?"
Martin's heart rose into his throat, not from any nerves as Boldred had assumed but from pure, strangling anticipation. The attendees all craned their necks to watch, some standing up from their chairs, as Rose arrived, escorted by her mother. While he was certain that Aryah must have been comparably dressed up, Martin only had eyes for his bride; he was physically incapable of looking away.
He had expected that she might have worn flowers on her head, as she had done so numerous times in the past, but instead she wore a crown of fall's finest foliage, the fiery leaves cunningly fastened to a braided ribbon. Beyond that, she wore a cream-colored gown, intricately embroidered with the pattern of roses in the same color, so that the design only really showed when the light caught the thread right. If Martin had been in better control of his faculties, he might have realized that, aha, that was what Aryah had been diligently sewing every night since the engagement's announcement. She was also carrying a bouquet of her namesake flowers, in the same hues as the leaves on her head.
Rose cast an amused glance over Martin as she came to stand beside him. "You can close your mouth now."
He did so, even though he hadn't been aware that it'd been hanging open, and he swallowed and wet his lips so that he might be capable of speech. "It's just…Rose, I thought you were the most beautiful creature I'd ever seen when I first laid eyes on you, but somehow you've gotten prettier every day since then."
A grin curled her lips. "You realize that, back then, you had sand in your eyes."
"Aye, an' you'm were stannin' on moi 'ead!" Grumm added to the chuckles of all.
Martin acknowledged that with a nod and continued gazing at his bride. "That might be true," he conceded, "but I don't have sand in my eyes now, Rose."
Her eyes softened, and she smiled a heartfelt smile. "No, love, you don't."
He extended his paw, and as she slipped hers into his, he gave it a gentle squeeze. They both turned to face the Patriarch, and the ceremony began. It was a touching affair, and hardly a creature had not shed a tear, Rose included, by the time Urran Voh raised their intertwined paws, rings now securely in place, and declared them husband and wife.
The Patriarch paused then and fixed his eyes on Martin, who glanced at him and appeared nervous for the first time under his new father-in-law's scrutiny. But then the silver-furred mouse smiled a close-lipped smile and gestured vaguely with a paw. "You may kiss the bride."
He nodded. "Thank you, sir," he replied fervently, and he captured Rose in a sweet kiss that become rather more hilarious when he bent her backwards over his arm. She burst out laughing at the absurd over-the-top nature of the gesture, and she pushed his shoulder lightly when he'd set her back on her footpaws, still laughing as he went on grinning and spread his paws as if to say, "What? What?"
"You're something else, Martin!" she declared fondly as he tucked her paw through the crook of his arm.
"Yes, I am," he agreed, placing a kiss on the tip of her nose. Together, they walked back down the leaf-strewn aisle as everybeast cheered and threw varicolored rose petals into the air until it was practically raining flowers. Once they'd achieved the end of the aisle, they turned around again and Martin thrust his free paw skyward.
"To the feast!" he declared. "By the way, you're all invited!"
More laughter, applause, and cheers greeted that pronouncement, above which Ballaw could be heard singularly, until Rowanoak, who was noisily blowing her nose in a handkerchief—being very much a romantic at heart—cuffed him soundly about the ears.
Smiling and laughing, Martin and Rose led the way to their wedding feast, each of them overcome with happiness.
"I fear I shall burst," Martin moaned, slouching back in his chair and placing a paw on his stomach. "By the seasons, how much did I eat? Carrot'n'turnip pasty, hot mushroom and leek turnover, and then that wildberry pie with the crimped crust and the sweet cream."
Rose smacked him lightly with her napkin, too full herself to reach the scant distance to hit him directly. "Don't forget that yellow cheese with hazelnuts and that whole farl of dark bread and the sweet cakes you insisted Grumm make 'specially for you."
He nodded sleepily. "Mm, you're right. And then there was that cider, and the dandelion'n'burdock cordial, and the strawberry fizz an' the damson wine…"
"No, damson wine, that was me," Rose corrected him, indicating her half-filled bowl with a wave. "The fizz went up your nose, remember, and that put a stop to all your drink sampling."
Martin chuckled as the recent memory recalled itself. "Oh, aye, that's right. Nearly came out of my nose, too."
"Wouldn't that have been dignified," she said slyly as she ignored her bursting stomach and helped herself to another slice of candied apple pastry.
They were distracted from their tally of consumed foodstuffs by the Rambling Rosehip Players, who had bounced, cartwheeled, and otherwise maneuvered themselves to the open center of the floor, as the tables had been set foursquare in Council Lodge.
Ballaw made an insanely elegant leg, his long ears flapping down to strike the ground, and then whipped himself straight again with quite the flourish. "Laaaaadies an' gennelmice! My good squirrels, hedgehogs, moles, shrews, otters, and assorted creatures of h'all kinds, owlbirds included! Tonight's post-feast entertainment shall begin, though to tell the truth," he continued at a stage whisper, "is the feast ever really over, wot wot?"
The audience laughed appreciatively at his joke, and he puffed out his surprisingly narrow chest with a thespian's pride at the response.
"Jolly good! Well, me good fellows, tonight we will be performing the one an' only play that'd be fittin' for a weddin' feast: the Frog Maiden an' the Caterpillar! H'I myself will be playin' the fiendish an' wicked Toad Uncle, whilst jolly ol' Buckler here tackles the formidable part of Caterpillar, and Brome, dear Brome, reprises his inaugural role as none other than the Frog Maiden 'erself! Will these two star-crossed lovers ever be wed, or will the evil toad throw a bally lily pad into the pond of their happiness? And so it begins!"
Martin, Rose, and everybeast watching nearly fell out of their chairs laughing at the antics of the Rosehip Players. The actors tumbled, leapt, and gyrated madly as they shouted off lines, forget their places, and generally tripped over each other in unholy chaos, and concluded the entire comedic travesty with a faulty attempt to sing the rousing final chorus in four-part harmony, which never quite managed to establish itself.
"And the Frog and the Caterpillar were wedded that day,
The ol' mangy Toad was asleep far away,
'Cause they'd staged it in winter in the cold and the snooooow,
So that the Toad was alseeeeeeep…never to knooooooow!"
Buckler and Brome, so perched atop Rowanoak's shoulders in the attitude of jubilant lovers, were foiled in their final glory by Kastern and Gauchee dropping their prop lily pads and accidentally falling into Celandine, who in turn let out a wail of dismay as she plowed headlong into the badger's stomach. Rowanoak lost all her breath in one go and toppled over backwards, and Buckler and Brome had to throw themselves aside lest they land on their friend's head.
Ballaw got up from where he had been pretending to hibernate and whipped off his Evil Toad mask, sending a glare over his disheveled troupe. "Well, that's that, I suppose," he announced halfheartedly, and he offered another leggy bow to the guests of honor. "You chaps seemed to get a bally kick outta it anyway, so mayhap we're not completely disgraced as a performin' band."
"It was lovely, Ballaw," Rose called down. "I got to watch Martin spray cold mint tea out of his nose, at any rate!"
The Warrior had a handkerchief clapped to his snout. "I'm so glad it was cold," he remarked, to the continued amusement of all.
The hare's ears twitched. "I say, Miss Rose, you've got a fine wonderful voice! Why don't you treat us all to a ballad or five?"
Martin shook his head with a grin. "It's her wedding, Ballaw—how can you ask her to provide the entertainment?"
Before the hare could defend his request, Rose was rising from her seat and accepting the burden. "I think I can sing on a full stomach. Just don't expect me to dance, now!"
"Hurr, we'm doin' that larter, miz Roser!" Grumm informed her. "Us moleys are gonna be doin' our mole-darnce!"
She nodded and spread her hands to the Rosehip Players. "So what song do you want me to sing at my own feast?"
"Burr, 'ow 'bout th' one 'bout the mousey an' the bees?" Buckler suggested brightly as he dusted himself off.
The new mousewife considered that, her paws akimbo. "It's not really appropriate for the solemnity of the occasion," she began, "but then again, nothing so far has been. Rosehippers, you'd best fetch your instruments; this is going to get lively! A-one, a-two, a-three!
"I once knew a mouse with great big ears
As never you've seen in all your years
In the winter they would fill with snow
In the summer they'd fill with rain
In the fall they'd clog with fallen leaves
'Til he'd clean them out again!
But worst of all was in the spring
When the blossoms filled the trees
He'd sit and hearken to the birds
And be set upon by bees!
They'd buzz and fly
And 'ouch!' he'd cry
As they stung 'im in the rear
But worst of all
Some of 'em would fall
And get lost in his ears!
I tell you true, laughed 'til I was blue
One flew in and ne'er came out…
'Til it buzzed right out o' his snout!
So now when it's spring and he has the whim
To sit beneath the trees
He stuffs his ears and never hears
The buzzin' of those bees!"
Rose curtsied prettily amongst the ensuing thunderous applause for the ridiculous ditty, and she sat back down and daintily drank some of her damson wine while Martin wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Definitely not appropriate for such a solemn occasion as this!" he agreed, clutching a stitch in his side.
It took some time for everybeast to recover from the string of hilarity, and when things had calmed down once more, Queen Amballa approached the newlywed's table, a wrapped object held forth in her small hands.
"Ballamum say this: Rosemouse bravemouse! Take-a this for your longlong journey. Martinmouse Warriormouse already has bigslaysword. Rosemouse needa slaysword too!"
The mousewife accepted the present and unwrapped the barkcloth, revealing the short sword that Martin had borne on their adventure and had lost in the battle of Marshank. It had been cleaned, polished, and its hilt rewrapped, and presented in a new scabbard set with shards of rose quartz.
Rose got up and curtsied again. "Ballamum muchmuch generous! Rosemouse thank you plennybig!"
To everyone's surprise, Queen Amballa returned the curtsy, not merely acknowledging the gratitude with her usual curt nod. As she bustled off again, Boldred waddled up and settled another leather pouch on the table, this one having been brought by Horty.
Martin looked up at her. "Marm, you already made the rings! You need not give us anything else!"
"Yes, and what beautiful rings, too," Rose added; she'd been admiring hers off and on all evening.
Boldred clicked her beak. "I'll give you whatever gifts I want," she declared, ruffling her feathers as if she were truly indignant over the matter. "Do open it already," she added with an artist's mix of eagerness and nerves.
They obeyed, and Rose withdrew a small wooden locket. When she opened it, she gasped and put a paw to her mouth, marveling at the images within. Martin tilted her paw so that he could see, too, and his jaw slackened when he gazed upon exact likenesses of himself and his bride, painted with the tiniest of brushstrokes.
"I actually had done it quite some time ago," Boldred explained, "but when Martin told me of his intent to marry you, Rose, I thought I'd save it for the wedding."
Uttering more thanks, the two mice embraced the owl's downy chest, and she folded her wings gently about both of them. "You are good and brave creatures," she told them once they'd drawn back. "Should you need any advice about any lands you may travel to, never hesitate to ask!"
Martin and Rose settled back into their chairs in time to see Grumm gathering all of Noonvale's moles for the diggers' signature dance. He reached over and twined his paw with hers, and she turned her head to look at him. Thunderstruck once more by her gentle hazel eyes, Martin simply gazed at her for a long moment, and then he squeezed her paw and smiled.
"I'm going to have to thank Brome one of these days for wandering out of Noonvale and getting lost," he remarked softly.
She squeezed his paw back. "Indeed, we owe this all to him, in a strange sort of way." She paused and then added, "You look happy, Martin. Really, truly happy."
"You're my wife, and we're about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, literally and otherwise," he said, dusting a kiss onto the back of her paw. "Why would I not be happy?"
"Wise words, Warrior," she replied with a chuckle.
He just smiled back at her.