Inside the Gatehouse, Brother Dominic stood before the empty fireplace which had the previous night held logs to support a lively fire for the use of Jared Sandeye and Fernleaf. While the exact nature of their session together was no business of his, he respected their need for privacy, hence their choice of the Gatehouse.
Dominic also knew that they’d eaten post-dinner dessert here, and remembered to clean up after themselves. Good thing, too. Under normal circumstances, if that squirrel and ferret pair had made a mess in his most favorite space, he would’ve tracked them down effortlessly and “boxed their ears bad”, in Jared’s words. However, given the current state of affairs, the war being top of the list, the elder adult squirrel simply didn’t have that kind of time, and Father Michael might not approve of such an action anyway.
Brother Dominic proudly held the graceful and noble position as Abbey Recorder. This calling he’d gladly taken on at Michael’s request at least a half-dozen seasons before the outbreak of this pointless war against the wildcat Argrav Kelnris. Ever since, Dom considered the Gatehouse to be his own place, his homely hangout, and best writing hole. He felt the muses speaking to him here, and his mind often erupted with inspiration like fire sparking to life in his brain in the most mundane and lethargic of moments. As the squirrel settled into a squishy cushioned armchair at the table, facing a fresh clean roll of parchment, a full inkwell, and his favorite quill pen, Dominic already sensed a wave of enlightenment washing over him like the crashing tides of the ocean. Fernleaf may have first met Dominic trimming that overgrown ash tree creeping over the western walls; though the brown squirrel only put himself there because nobeast else was present around that area to do the trimming job. The damn tree wouldn’t cut itself, that’s for sure.
He reached into the pockets of his habit and removed a scrap of paper. This came from Madeline Sandeye, her copy (and the only actual written one, at that) of the riddle from the ghost kestrel Skarlath, given to Fernleaf during his vision of Martin the Warrior and Sunflash the Mace. First passed to Larina Skyleaf for her personal examination, then to Dominic at this morning’s breakfast before Madeline left for the greenhouses. Dom had wondered to himself repeatedly whether or not the Sandeye sister would allow him to keep and preserve it for the monastery’s historical records. Eventually, his ponderings arrived at the obvious and inarguable conclusion that such a provoking question could easily be saved for after the end of the war anyway.
If it ended at all, and the old Recorder survived to see the end of it.
Smiling in anticipation, Dom laid the paper on the table, picked up his pen and loaded it with ink, and set to work doing the one thing he loved best: deciphering and solving riddles. His gaze descended on the first stanza of Skarlath’s cryptic discourse. He’d seen numerous confounding poems over the years, those created by Martin the Warrior, or just silly stuff to break the boredom of the Dibbuns or his fellow Elders.
But damned he’d be if this was considered unbreakable. He recited out loud the first couple of stanzas, jotting down his best interpretations.
“Miner On Vore,
O Unlikely Warrior,
Miner On Vore,
So Happy and Free:
Rooter and Chopper
And Friend of the Dipper,
Miner On Vore,
Now listen to me!”
An unchangeable tradition of the ancient heroes of Redwall to speak in such a way. Dominic already knew that “Miner On Vore” was an anagram of “Vermin No More”. Fernleaf had indeed been “happy and free” in his simple life as an herbalist and healer in Mossflower. Balma the ottermaid, the Sandeyes siblings, and many more. Then Kelnris came, and the Long Patrol hatched the idea to shelter Fernleaf in Redwall for his own protection. None here expected the vision the ferret received. Such wonders!
Write now, marvel later. Dominic moved on.
“Keeping your vow,
You have for these seasons.
But your words
Taken backwards you have;
Peacebeast in plenty
Has no shame in taking
Weapon thrust on him
To defend weak in hand.”
Dominic scribbled down his thoughts on these verses. Long ago, Fernleaf swore a genuine oath, a vow to the late Lord Tokal of Salamandastron, to never again harm another living creature forever. He retired and gave up his ways of darkness, becoming the greatest specializer in the herbal healing of Mossflower Forest. But after that miraculous visit by the legends of Redwall, the ferret has not been the same.
For the better, Dominic thought to himself. Redwall needs a warrior and protector now more than ever.
Those stanzas pretty much spoke for themselves.
“Fear not to change,
The stripe understands.
You harmed not the goodbeast
And stood for the land.
An unlikely crew,
Stands with you, my son.
Stripe, Tail, and River,
Strikes out in the run.”
The ‘Stripe’…meaning Lord Tokal, the same new ghost who’d arrived the previous evening? Tokal understood Fernleaf’s internal emotional conflict of either keeping or breaking his vow of pacifism long before his spirit appeared in the Abbey. In the end, however, Fernleaf was in the right in choosing to become Martin’s Champion. That same figure probably was the same standing beside the ‘Tail’, obviously Jared Sandeye and his squirrel family; and ‘River’, without a doubt referring to the aforementioned Balma. An unlikely crew, indeed.
“Find what’s in common,
In the three named above,
And you have your fellows,
To defend and to love.
Longears, Feather and Greybeast
Are going with you,
To be good companions,
In this quest so true.”
The utter confusion in Dominic’s mind now slowly began to fill his entire being. The one thing in common between the three…nobeast knew, perhaps not even the subjects themselves. ‘Longears, Feather and Greybeast’ –
- He just thought it best to skip these stanzas for now. The Recorder shuddered and shivered in his seat. Somewhere deep in his mind, it was as if he could faintly hear the spirit of Skarlath laughing off every single one of his feathers at him.
The rising sounds of clashing metal swords thrust him back into reality. Dominic sighed in stress and impatience, dropping his quill into his inkwell and going to the door. Pulling it open and poking his head out of the doorway, he called out in honest irritation and annoyance to the training warriors,
“If you don’t mind, you sword-crazy beasts, I am performing an essential task crucial to the survival of Redwall Abbey and possibly all of Mossflower in the Gatehouse. While I am indeed grateful for the meticulous care and safe preservation of my facility yesternight by Jared and Fernleaf, I must ask that you either relocate elsewhere in the Abbey to do your combat training and lessons or otherwise stop altogether. I do not mean to be rude in the slightest, being a Brother of Redwall. But I cannot solve the riddle of the kestrel Skarlath in such a noisy environment. So please figure out a course of action in the meantime. You don’t have to tell me, but living or dead, if you do plan to fight each other, kindly don’t do it here!”
Dominic slammed the door and hurried back to his chair.
Now, where was I?