The Wind in the Willow (Closed)

OOC: This roleplay is closed and, currently, just between Myself and Everett. Thank you! 🙂

Also, omg hare talk is so difficult!

Bic: Willow groaned as she bent forwards into the biting breath of the wind. It cut into her fur and bit deeply as it howled and screamed around her. The night was cruel, and the storm was unforgiving.

Blood dripped through the ferrets paws from her side as she staggered forwards, pressing against the cold wall of air that assaulted her senses. She glanced behind her at the drops of blood flaking the ground, and pressed forwards.

Her steps were slow and determined as she went through the events again in her head, peering through the darkness and gloom of the night hoping that she was infact on the right path towards redwall.

_"Willow! Jolly good, Wot! Just the gel I wanted to see. I believe it's time for you to take a break, dontcha know me fine young ferret. Your blinking mother asked that you are to be taken care of and taught the best education that we have to offer here at Salamandastron wot"

The hare paused to tweak his long regimental tunic and fiddle with one of many medals.

"It leaves me with a jolly good problem . Ye see , wot wot, many of the chaps think that ye are one of those evil verministick scum types . Horribly bad form of 'em , wot wot, but we can't be having dissension in the ranks!"

He paused and smiled widely. "My fine young lass, We know differently doncha know, us officer types, but 'hin the 'hinterest of morale 'him going to send you to Redwall abbey for a season. A few of me finest officers will accompany you, wot wot!"_

Willow gritted her teeth in pain as she checked her pouchs for anything that might remain. Oh how she hated the Major now. His 'escort' slaughtered by an ambush, and her, wounded as she fled the scene. A great idea for a vacation!

It had all gone so well. She understood the need to visit redwall and had looked forwards to the vittles and perhaps gaining a few trinkets…but those thoughts were gone now.

Zarya, I wish you was here. You wouldve killed them all.

Blood dripped from her muzzle as she recalled just how easily the patrol was overwhelmed, herself only escaping as she was on the edge of the group and seen as a prisoner to the hares. The vermin had struck quickly and effectively in silence, their fur had  been dyed black and strange crimson red markings had covered their bodies.

Willow shuddered, glancing upwards as she realised that she had reached the path. She halted as she heard the sound of snapping branchs, checking that her tanto was still there, her dagger sling empty from her escape.

I have to get help. I can tell them what happened after I'm healed….without my Pouchs...I cant...tend to this.

Blood dripped freely from her muzzle as she slumped forwards to the ground, laying still upon the cold floor, her eyes widening.

what? How am i…It's only...I don't feel tired...

Confusion filled her as she pulled herself upright, ignoring the blood oozing through her makeshift bandages torn from her clothing. She stumbled forwards up the path, and made the distinct outline of the abbey in the distance.

Almost…almost there. Just a little further.

Panting, sweating heavily and aching the ferret girl trudged through the storm and towards the gate, hoping that she had not been followed. Willow slipped, stumbled and fell multiple times before she made it to the gate, her body caked in mud and blood as she panted heavily and feebly banged upon the doorway, too weak to attempt the lock on the wallgate.

"H…h..help....."

Willow collapsed. From the treelines, eyes watched as the ferret slumped against the doorway and then finally lay still in the ground before it. They waited for a few moments, until they were sure she would not be rising, and then they left, certain that doom had fallen upon Willow.

Redwall would soon know just who they were...

"I'm dying."

Everett Morton sighed and rubbed at the bridge of his nose as Nimmer fidgeted with his paws. The poor mouse had determined his immediate demise would take place sometime between four and six in the afternoon, and he had come to confirm his diagnosis after visiting the abbey recorder to draft something resembling a last will and testament. Everett looked Nimmer up and down before leaning in close to the mouse.

"You're not dying," the ferret doctor said.

"B-b-but," Nimmer stammered.

"Hollyberry can be fatal if not treated," Everett said, turning back to his table of poultices, herbs, powders and liquids and cleaning off the random spills into his trash recepticle. "But you didn't eat hollyberry."

Nimmer blinked rapidly. "Th-then what did I…?"

"You ate crimson butte," Everett said, turning and smiling. He held up a tumbler full of white liquid. "It's perfectly harmless...aside from an upset stomach you'll eventually have tonight. That's what this milk of magnesia is for."

"Milk of...?" Nimmer raised both eyebrows. "You mean...I'm going to live?"

"Oh yes," Everett said, handing him the tumbler. "At least, for today."

Nimmer seemed speechless, so Everett patted him on the shoulder and eased him towards the door exiting the infirmary. "Don't worry, Nimmer; your identification of wild berries will improve with practice. Just don't eat everything you spot, okay?"

"Right," Nimmer said, hoisting up the tumbler. "To your health, Everett."

"And yours," Everett said, clinking the tip of the tumbler with a digit. "Off you go."

"Healer!"

Everett's ears perked up at the shout–it was the side gate, and from the sound of things, it was Jahn. Everett dashed around Nimmer and into the courtyard, his medical apron clinging to his trousers as he ran. He spotted the otter Jahn holding an unmoving mudball that resembled a female, though what species he couldn't tell.

"I saw her from th' wall," Jahn said, breathless. "She's breathin', but tha's 'bout it."

"Get her inside, quickly!" Everett said, darting back towards the infirmary. He entered the room and cleared off a space on his examination table (which used to be a chop-block from the former cellarhog), grabbing a candle, a basin of water, several rags and smelling salts. Jahn followed closely behind, setting the unmoving creature on the table.

"What can I do?" he asked.

"Fetch Sister Moira," Everett said, breaking the salts under the female's nose. Jahn nodded and disappeared for Moira. Everett moved the salts under the female's nose, and she suddenly bolted upright, fighting against Everett's hold.

"Easy now!" he said, trying to calm her down. "You're safe...you're inside Redwall. I'm a phy--I'm a healer, and I'm here to help." He eased her back down onto the table and grabbed a soaking rag from the basin, carefully rubbing off some of the mud from the female's face. "Well, I believe there's a ferret under all this mud," he said warmly, beaming a warm smile while his eyes scanned for injury. "And it's a good thing you came now...I was about to have lunch."

After a few moments, Everett had cleaned most of her face and found a few cuts that opened under the cleaning. He dabbed some soap onto them, rubbed them clean and applied small strips of bandages to each. "My name is Everett," he said, dipping his paws into another basin to clean them and rubbing them dry on a towel before returning to her. "What's yours?"

Willow had been picked up and carried into the abbey, though she could not know that at the time. She was sinking deeper into the darkness and rapidly approaching the great gates of the dark forest when aruptly she felt herself pulled back into life.

The face of a male ferret confronted her, and she was instantly brought back into the nightmare from whence she had fled. She struggled instinctively, attempting to break free from his touch.

"Easy now!" he said, trying to calm her down. "You're safe…you're inside Redwall. I'm a phy--I'm a healer, and I'm here to help." He eased her back down onto the table and grabbed a soaking rag from the basin, she felt the mud as he rubbed it gently from her face "Well, I believe there's a ferret under all this mud," he said warmly, beaming a warm smile while his eyes scanned for injury. "And it's a good thing you came now…I was about to have lunch."

Willow groaned in pain, her deep crystalline blue eyes meeting Everetts own. She stared into his, unable to comprehend exactly what she saw, then tilted her head to one side, coughing repeatedly.

My name is Everett," he had said. "What's yours?"

Willow shivered and closed her eyes briefly once more, mentally focusing on the pain and its source, for the moment ignoring the ferret.

some…healer. Pain, waistline...pain, face. It mightve..caught me deeper than i expected. Am i even alive?

She let out a long sigh and opened her eyes again. "H..healer…" Willow coughed again. "S-side...Laceration...poison? Infection? Bleeding.." She blurted out medical knowledge and possible solutions in no particular order, allocated with the injurys in question that perhaps the ferret had yet to see.

"B-back. Back. Arrowhead. Wedged? Cut.....c-cut. M-move...bandages." Indeed, it became clear that there was in fact the tip of a broken shaft, had she torn it out herself? She couldn't remember, but her back  bleeding became evident with the mud being removed slowly, no longer compact and stopping the bleeding.

Willow was growing hot, she had come quite some way with an arrow wound in her back and swordslash at her side, without her pouchs simple cloth and mud had been all there was to slow the bleeding, and it hurt.

She recalled the gates from her visions, and grew fearful. Willow had seen patients die, indeed, she had caused many deaths herself, but she had never confronted her own mortality. It scared her ,and the ferret girl began to shiver, though if it was fear or the starts of a fever, she couldn't be certain.

Willow suddenly became aware that she might die and not be known for her name. The very thought terrorfied the young ferret and a paw reached for Everett, attempting to grasp at his as she forced the list of names through her lips in a jumble.

"V-vindauga...W-windeye....Willow!"

The last was added for her mothers sake, Zarya would never forgive her for not saying it, and she would never forgive herself if Willow merely dissapeared. Adopted or not...Willow could not help but think that she dearly wished Zarya was here to hold her now, just as she had those many years ago...

Everett noticed she was shivering and shaking…was it the pain? He continued his work, dropping the pleasantries and focusing on finding her injuries and ending her pain.

"Where does it hurt?" he asked, carefully moving her and inspecting her.

She let out a long sigh and opened her eyes again. "H..healer…" Willow coughed again. "S-side…Laceration...poison? Infection? Bleeding..." She blurted out medical knowledge and possible solutions in no particular order, allocated with the injuries in question that perhaps the ferret had yet to see.

Everett turned to her side, confirming her attention to the large gash at her side. "I see the wound," he said, nodding to himself. "It's deep, but I don't think infection–"

"B-back. Back. Arrowhead. Wedged? Cut…..c-cut. M-move...bandages." Indeed, it became clear that there was in fact the tip of a broken shaft, had she torn it out herself? She couldn't remember, but her back  bleeding became evident with the mud being removed slowly, no longer compact and stopping the bleeding. Everett bit his lip and looked over to the fireplace in the infirmary; a small fire had been set, and his food had been warming on the hearth. He walked over to the poker, buried it in the glowing coals, and returned to his patient.

"Don't worry," he said, rubbing sweat away from her forehead. He took a small piece of twig and placed it into her mouth for her to bite down on. "You're in good paws. I'll have you up and on your feet in no time."

Sister Moira entered the room and Everett gestured to her. "Sister, thank the fates…I need you to hold her down for me, understand? She's going to thrash something awful, but I need you to hold her fast." Everett turned her onto the side that wasn't cut, revealing a pool of red that continued to flow from the small shaft protruding out of her back.

Moira's eyes widened, but she nodded. "I understand, Doctor." She placed both paws on Willow's frame, securing her to the table, as Everett returned to the fire, removing the poker and its glowing tip. He held it away from Willow's body, and with the other paw clutched at the remaining arrow shaft.

"On three," he said to Moira. "One...two...three!" He jerked the shaft free in one pull and slapped the burning poker onto the wound, searing her fur and flesh and cauterizing the wound. He tossed the poker back into the fire and held on to Willow's body, assisting Moira in keeping the female ferret on the table. "I'm here, I'm here! I know it hurts, but hang on! The pain will pass, and I'll soon give you something to ward it off…just hang on!"

"Don't worry," he said, rubbing sweat away from her forehead. He took a small piece of twig and placed it into her mouth for her to bite down on. "You're in good paws. I'll have you up and on your feet in no time."

Willow knew what had to be done. She bit down into the twig and prepared herself for the pain that was to come.

Why is he helping me?

She flinched and then saw the hot poker, its glowing tip. Willow began sweating heavily and shuddered as she fought to stay calm, her eyes fixated on the glowing tip, as Moira came to hold her down.

"One…two...three!"

When the poker hit, she squealed loudly and then screamed in fear and pain, thrasing wildly and around madly as she tried to struggle free from the pain and the burning."No! No! No! No! NO! NO FIRE! No more fire! NO MORE FIRE!" The words rang through her mind as she tried to scream them out past the twig, biting down hard into its wood.

Thrasing wildly she tried to move, desperate to escape the flames, her tail twitching and thrasing with her as she tried to escape, tears dripping down her face from the pain. "I'm here, I'm here! I know it hurts, but hang on! The pain will pass, and I'll soon give you something to ward it off…just hang on!"

She spat the twig out and began cursing violently as she thrashed. "Burn me will yer?!? I'll gut ye, gut yer!" She squealed again and whined as they held her against the table, crying. "Murderarars! Ill rip y'part! Cutya inta strips, hang 'ye from tha' roof!"

Willow spat the twig out and began cursing violently as she thrashed. "Burn me will yer?!? I'll gut ye, gut yer!" She squealed again and whined as they held her against the table, crying. "Murderarars! Ill rip y'part! Cutya inta strips, hang 'ye from tha' roof!"

"I know," Everett said, hugging the ferret close to him. "The pain will go away…we just have to give it time!"

He felt her strength, her incredible power, as he held her close to him. She smelled warm and inviting, and he thought if he closed his eyes he could disappear in her arms for hours. He turned to Moira quickly, afraid he might lose his composure.

"Moira, will you help her with her clothes? She'll need to bathe before we bandage her."

"I know," Everett said, hugging the ferret close to him. "The pain will go away…we just have to give it time!"

Willow cried into the hug, shaking arms holding him tightly.

"Moira, will you help her with her clothes? She'll need to bathe before we bandage her." She began to shudder against her will, body pressed against the other ferret's warm and comforting embrace.

Briefly she allowed herself to fall into that embrace, picturing herself being held by Zarya, those many years ago.

"B-b-bathe…n-no more f-fire..." She turned to face Everett. "F-f-fire?" Then she slumped forwards, Willows body going limp as the exaustion caught up with her, her tail twitching as she breathed deeply, now she was in the light the blackened fur bands and their gray charred outer areas showing some past scar, not so easily forgotten.

"B-b-bathe…n-no more f-fire..." Willow turned to face Everett. "F-f-fire?"

Then she was gone, a slumbering shell pressed against Everett's chest as her mind retreated into the dank, dusty corners of its deepest recesses to return at another time. The ferret doctor eased his patient down onto the table, inhaling through his teeth as he spotted a vicious old scar that would leave more than pain to the victim.

"Who would do such a…?" he whispered, looking up into Moira's eyes. "This girl needs our help, Sister. We need to do everything we can to keep her healthy and safe. No-one is to come into this section of the infirmary, other than you and me--is that clear?"

"Yes, Everett," Moira said.

Everett withdrew his paws from behind Willow's head, watching her slow breaths raise and lower her chest. "Maybe we'll give her a reason to want to stay." He looked at his filthy paws and blanched. "Let's get some warm water from the fire...I'll fetch some clean garments and leave you for now."

"Oh, but Everett," Moira said, walking over to the hollow wooden basin that served as a bathtub, "you're a healer. You don't need to leave."

Everett washed his paws in a smaller bowl next to the table, allowing a small smile to escape his lips. "Call it an archaic form of modesty," he said, shaking his paws free of the water. "I'll be back soon; I'll knock and wait for your reply."

"Of course, Everett," Moira said, pouring steaming water into the basin. "I think she'll enjoy being clean for a change."

"I hope so," Everett said over his shoulder, leaving the infirmary and closing the door behind him.

Willow slept. For how long, she didn't know but It felt like an eternity. Drifting in blackness, the ferret dreamt of mouses in armor, battles long gone and dark faces in the night. Brightly painted, black furred beasts invading and destroying everything…

She was brought back to the ambush. It had all happened so quickly.

_Colonel Craygold twirled his whiskers and frowned, fiddling with a few of his medeals and glancing around as they walked through the darkened night towards Redwall. He glanced at his patrol. Fine beasts, the lot of them. Made up of himself, Captain Crowley, Lieutenant Lilyrose, Sgt Fiddlepaw and three green-in-the ears Corporals. He felt that the seven of them should be perfectly safe….and yet...

Crowley walked to his side. "Sah? Y'seem distracted."

Craygold nodded and sighed, his keen eyes glancing into the woodland. "Ah dont loike it Sgt. Ah've seen nobeast bet y'self an us fer the last few hours on a well treaded path ta redwall h'abbey. Listen..."

He raised a paw, and the patrol stopped. "D'ye hear that?"

Crowley turned and put a paw to his ear. "Sah? Hear what? I hope your not pulling the whiskers old chap, wot! I don't hear as much as a blinking bird in the sky doncha know. Bad form, wot wot!"

Craygold nodded as Sgt Fiddlepaw moved to join them. "Sah, The youngens are requesting a brief respite. Somethin about lack of vittles an too much marchin, wot!" He laughed, but his laugh was cut short as he noticed the two conversing and the serious expressions.

"Shall I ready the troops, sah?" His eyes began watching the woodlands and his paw strayed to his swordbelt.

Craygold sighed. "Ah, s'probly nothin. Tell the wee beasties we'll be ovah aht Redwall soon, they'll get vittles there aplenty."

Fiddlepaw nodded and began moving towards the rear where the three corporals were talking loudly to one another, passing Willow on the way.

He fell forwards infront of the Corporals, the arrow in his back invisible amongst the darkness.

"I say! Bad form, wot! Old Fiddle's come a cropper sah!"
"Jolly good, about time, wot!"

Craygold drew his sword and whirled around as Crowley did the same. "H'ambush!" Crowley rushed to Lilyrose's side, glancing around the darkness. "Willow! Check Fiddlepaw, Lily, make a break for salamandastron!"

Willow sighed and rushed to Fiddles side, a single check of his neck showing he was dead already. She looked up to see the running hare, Lily, charge away into the darkness followed by the sounds of fighting and clashing metal.

Craygold whirled around as black beasts came down from the trees, leaping towards the small patrol. His blade danced through the air as they engaged the blackened beasts.

"Crowley! Take the youngen's and push through to redwall! Warn the abbey!" He was already seperated, the black-furred red painted beasts pushing through the small patrol with ease. Willow saw the brave Colonel's blade flashing left to right as she backed away with two of the corporals and the Sgt.

"You heard him, wot! Break left, give them blood and vinegar! Eulaliiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

Crowley pushed forwards and a gap became evident in the ambush. Willow rushed through, her tanto stabbing left and right as she went, followed by one of the corporals. The two rushed into the darkness, turning to see the black swarm descend upon the others, the gap already filled.

"Crowley Sah!" The corporal yelled. The two heard the screams and clashing as another voice, Craygold's, raised into the darkness.

"S'DEATH ON THE WIND! EULALIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!"

She flinched as the Corporal continued to shout. "You fool! Shut up!" He refused, and several of the black beasts turned towards them. She couldn't see where the Colonel was, nor the remaining hares of the patrol.

"Run, Run you fool!" Willow kicked at the hare and he turned to her, nodding enthuastically. "Wot ho! Bally good idea, wot!"

The two charged through the darkness, straight into another ambush. Willow darted left and right, stabbing wildly with the tanto as the hare did the same, his two short-blades flashing in the darkness. Blood soon coated the pair as they too were surrounded.

"Doesn't look good, Willow m'gal, wot."
"Shut up and fight!" The two whirled around together, Willow felt the piercing blade stab into her side and blood oozed downwards. The hare turned to her. "Willow!"

It was a fatal mistake. A spear found its way to his chest and he coughed, eyes widening. He reached out towards her, and she pushed him back into the vermin, creating a brief gap for her to run through.

As she ran, Willow tore at her equipment and patched the area with cloth and mud, disgarding as much as she could to lighten her load. She could no longer hear the sounds of fighting behind her, but she could hear the tell-tale crack and pounding of footpaws in persuit.

Whirling around, she threw two daggers, quickly finding another two and throwing them as well. Three beasts fell, and yet more came behind. She backed up, throwing the remaining daggers in a frenzy fueled by fear and anger, then fled into the woodlands, dancing between trees.

Thud!

Willow screamed as she felt the arrow hit, rolling forwards into some bushes. She lay there, paw over her mouth as several beasts rushed past in the darkness. Then, biting onto some wood, she pulled at the arrow, snapping the shaft off and panting heavily.

Redwall could not be too far ahead....Willow ran, faster than she had ever run before. They would get her, they were right behind her, they would-_

Willow bolted upright and squealed in fright, sweat dripping down her body. She had in fact been asleep for three days now, body recovering from the injuries. She shook, glancing around the unfamiliar surroundings of the infirmiry, swinging her feet over the side and attempting to get up.

She fell to the floor and panted heavily with the effort, remaining on her knees with one paw on the floor to support her.

"Ngh!"

Everett stood in his small office adjacent to the infirmary, paws resting on the desk where his journal on his latest patient lay. His eyes scanned the familiar words—words he’d read for days, looking at them at length, trying to pry any and all information from them. He knew these words he’d written wouldn’t suffice, couldn’t suffice for his thirst for knowledge about his patient. Who was she? Where did she come from? Who gave her these awful injuries? He yawned and rubbed at his face before plopping down into his mess of a chair, grabbing the top sheet off of the stack and scanning its pawwritten lines.

_‘Patient name: unknown. <- She did blurt out "V-vindauga…W-windeye....Willow!" before losing consciousness; could be some sort of clan designation or familial title. Should refer to her as ‘Willow.’

‘Injuries sustained were severe. Considerable loss of blood due to deep laceration on her side. Initial investigation revealed she tried to pack the wound with damp earth; no infections found after cleaning and bandaging the gash. Observations of her movement following bandaging reveal slight movement impairment—only time will reveal if these limitations are permanent. Arrowhead pried from her back, just below shoulder blade; similar loss of blood, but not as pronounced. Ample amounts of gauze and disinfectant applied to the wound; mobility of arm assumed to be hampered, but should heal with rest and eventual exercise...’_

Everett sighed and leaned back in his chair, allowing his eyes to close. He suddenly disappeared into a dream, recounting an earlier time when he witnessed similar injuries to other creatures…

_It was spring, when it began. It was talk at first, mostly: eager young weasels and ferrets basking in their youth, gloating at their inheritances and spitefully goading the nearby foxes and wildcats. Honor and liberty were at stake, and soon pithy offenses became cause for injury. Nobeast knew what would happen after a vixen had been captured and murdered by a drunken mob, her body left to float home down a creek where she used to play. Husbands and fathers beat dust off of old uniforms, and sons and brothers rallied under their banners. Everett knew nothing of this growing climate of war; he’d recently been expelled from Blackstone Institute for his groundbreaking but threatening practice of ‘cutting’ on patients, and had retreated back to the Morton estate only to be ostracized by his father and dismissed from the family.

He was on a caravan headed for the sea when they were attacked. The soldiers and those who resisted were killed; the females were allowed to leave, minus their jewelry and moneys. The remaining males were pressed into service, following the banner of a stoat named Shroud. Everett applied his medical knowledge to his service as a field physician and began treating common army injuries: marchpaw, cuts and bruises, malnutrition and occasional disease. It wasn’t until the battle of Deadfield that Everett saw the horrors of war, of pitting beast against beast, armed to the fang with the latest innovations in weaponry. The wounds pouring into Everett’s tent were astounding, and he would no sooner patch a creature together than to watch their life drain away beneath his stained boots. And they kept coming. His paws were a blur, removing arrowheads and broken shafts of spears, salving hemorrhages and stitching gashes, while moaning and dying creatures were laid all around him. Somehow the battle ended, and Shroud’s forces were ‘victorious.’ Everett knew firsthand of the cost of victory, and he feared what a defeat would look like.

Deadfield’s triumph was quickly followed by decisive victories at Hook Bow, Last Testament and Crag of the Dawn. Then came reports of a terrifying defeat on the northern front, at Talspurn. A day later, another crushing blow came at Thymewatch. The survivors that trickled into Shroud’s camp were few, and all were injured and close to dying. Shroud angrily marched his army to defend their weakening front at a spot known as Golden Field. The next morning Shroud’s army emptied onto the field, breastplates and shields gleaming, awaiting the arrival of their foes. The enemy took their time arriving and preparing for battle, and it had its desired effect. The black-armored creatures were like locusts, swarming through the harvest grain. By now it was fall, and Shroud knew his orders were to stop this army before winter. Thus, it began, and ended just as quickly.

Everett saw defeat, held its paw as it shook in the tremors of death, tears of fright frozen on its cheeks, letters illegibly scrawled to some creature important to them tucked in hidden pockets, charcoal portraits of wives, children and friends smudged with mud and blood. One ferret awoke on Everett’s table and lashed out with a dagger, cutting a long gash across Everett’s forehead before he fell back dead on the table. In the waning hours of the battle, Shroud was carried in on a bloodstained tarp by three of his remaining generals. Everett tried desperately to save his commander, but he knew the wounds were mortal. Shroud clung to life and was in the process of issuing orders to his followers when the flap on the tent parted, and Bastion, leader of the fox and wildcat army, marched in. He drew his sword and impaled Shroud, pinning his body to the table. With a glance he had Shroud’s generals executed where they stood.

Everett stood staring at Bastion. The two had schooled together in their youth and had been friends before time and life separated them. Bastion’s glare was cold and hard, and Everett couldn’t help the tears that sprung from his eyelids. Soon he was sobbing, his tears cutting fresh lines through others’ blood that soaked his fur. Bastion struck out twice, slapping and back-pawing Everett in disgrace. He could’ve executed him, but instead he had the ferret chained and marched behind the army as a prisoner, soon to join Bastion’s own field surgeons. But how could he help such a butcher, after all he had seen on the bloody fields and wretched forests and stained creeks? No, he would instead—_

Everett bolted upright with a yelp, sweat standing out on his forehead. He panted for a moment, blinking in the dim candlelight. Several hours had passed…had he slept that long? He thought he heard something, but he wasn’t certain. He took his candle and walked slowly into the infirmary.

"Ngh!"

Everett heard the cry and rushed into the room. The female ferret had fallen from her bed and was kneeling by it, a solitary paw resting on the floor for support. Everett rushed over, setting the candle on the stones and ripping a bedsheet away from one of the empty beds, draping it over the female’s frame.

“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, his eyes scanning the darkness. It seemed her tumble hadn’t woken any of the other abbey creatures, or any other beast in the infirmary. His eyes returned to her own, and he offered a small smile. “I—I’m sorry we don’t have any garments for you yet…the bandages are still healing your wounds, and I didn’t think you’d be ready to move yet.” He offered her his arm. “Why don’t I help you up into bed, and we can talk for a while? I can keep you company, if you like.”

Everett heard the cry and rushed into the room. Willow had fallen from her bed and was kneeling by it, a solitary paw resting on the floor for support as Everett rushed over, setting the candle on the stones and ripping a bedsheet away from one of the empty beds, draping it over her body.

“Are you alright?” he asked quietly, his eyes scanning the darkness. Her eyes met his as he smiled, sending shivers through her body. “I—I’m sorry we don’t have any garments for you yet…the bandages are still healing your wounds, and I didn’t think you’d be ready to move yet.” He offered her his arm. “Why don’t I help you up into bed, and we can talk for a while? I can keep you company, if you like.”

Willow glanced over at his arm, and then pushed it away. She pushed herself upright with her paws and managed to stand, though from her shaking body and paled face it was not without some pain.

"don't…need...help" She coughed repeatedly and fell backwards onto the bed, droplets of blood dripping from her mouth as she cringed in pain, one paw darting to the bedsheets and gripping them tightly. Willow's body felt like it was on fire as the pain rippled through her form with the coughing fit.

"Nghh.." She finally stopped coughing and took several long, drawn out breaths.

"Colonel Craygold....where is...the colonel?"

Everett stared at the female ferret as she fell backwards and thrashed on the bed in the throws of pain. He fought his instinct to reach out and help her, knowing any sort of movement towards her now would be interpreted as threatening…and he didn't doubt she would be as deadly as if she felt perfectly healthy--Even more so! he thought. Instead, he cleared his throat and forced himself to bury his eyes on her forehead, so as to keep his eyes from straying.

"So, you don't need help?" he asked, shaking his head. "I guess I can just…let you be, then." She coughed droplets of blood onto the sheets, and again Everett started towards her and stopped himself. Control yourself! his mind shouted. He grit his teeth and fought to keep his voice clear of growing anger. "If you know anything about medicine, which I assume you do, based on what you said earlier, you'll know blood accompanying coughs is a sign of internal injury." He folded his paws. "I can heal you, if you let me."

"Nghh.." She finally stopped coughing and took several long, drawn out breaths. Everett stared into her wild eyes and wondered what she was thinking–how she could be so tenacious. The arrogance, the defiance--such spirit! If only they had met under different circumstances, perhaps in a chance meeting while in a blossoming grove of apple trees in a late spring's breeze...

"Colonel Craygold….where is...the colonel?"

Everett shook his head, erasing his mind's daydream and forcing himself back into the moment. What had she asked about? The colonel? He didn't know what she was talking about, nor had he heard of anybeast named 'Craygold.' It could be the fever, he thought.

"I don't know who you're talking about," Everett said, chancing his approach to her bedside. He pulled up a stool and sat on it, following her firey eyes with his own. "I've never heard of a 'Colonel Craygold,' let alone known of any colonel for quite some time. By the name and rank of him, he sounds like a hare from the Long Patrol. Is that what outfit he belongs to?"

She quivered on her knees as he spoke once more.
"So, you don't need help?" he asked, shaking his head. "I guess I can just…let you be, then." She coughed droplets of blood onto the sheets, and again Everett started towards her and stopped himself. Control yourself! his mind shouted. He grit his teeth and fought to keep his voice clear of growing anger. "If you know anything about medicine, which I assume you do, based on what you said earlier, you'll know blood accompanying coughs is a sign of internal injury." He folded his paws. "I can heal you, if you let me."

Willow nodded. "Fine…" She grunted in pain and glanced around the room.

"I don't know who you're talking about," Everett said, chancing his approach to her bedside. He pulled up a stool and sat on it, following her firey eyes with his own. "I've never heard of a 'Colonel Craygold,' let alone known of any colonel for quite some time. By the name and rank of him, he sounds like a hare from the Long Patrol. Is that what outfit he belongs to?"

Willow nodded, and grunted in pain once more. "Yes…the long patrol. I was with the long patrol...but.." She shook her head and shuddered. "Dead. All of them. Ambushed." Willow looked up into the other ferrets eyes. "Black beasts in red swarming through the forest. Redwall must be warned..." She stood upright, shaking from the effort and pain, then fell backwards onto the bed shuddering.

"Warn...redwall...Major Craygold." Her head lolled to one side and her eyes closed as she fell back into a fitful slumber.

Everett shook his head as he walked out of the infirmary. The female ferret–Willow--had been asleep for nearly half the day. During that time, he'd inquired on this supposed 'Colonel Craygold' and the whereabouts of any missing units of the Long Patrol from the Recorder, Carthy. The mouse recorder hadn't heard of any news, nor could he find any records of a hare named Craygold, though he did admit to being behind on dispatches from Salamandastron. Everett became more confused as each hour passed. What happened to her? he thought. Could she be making this whole thing up?

He blew on his stew as he watched her fidget in her sleep. He had brought her a bowl as well, along with a dish of crackers, a small selection of fruits from the courtyard and a glass of water. Hopefully she'd be up and ready to eat; otherwise, he'd have to wake her, and he knew she wouldn't enjoy that.

"He–urk!"

Everett's ears perked up. He heard the startled scream, interrupted by the moan; as if on cue, something heavy fell in the hallway and up against the far wall. Everett set his bowl down and wiped his mouth with the back of a paw, turning towards the door of the infirmary. He saw the handle jiggle slightly. He rose to his footpaws and crept over to the doorway, standing behind the path of the door. The latch turned and the door started to open.

Everett shoved against the door, pinning the intruder to the frame with a loud yelp. Something metallic fell to the stones, and then suddenly Everett found himself being pushed back with the door. A savage-looking rat snarled at him, stooping to pick up the dagger he'd dropped to the stones by his footpaws. Everett charged him while he was stooped, tackling the foul-smelling vermin and knocking over several empty cots in the process. The two struggled in a tangle of bedsheets, fur, teeth and claws, muscle straining against muscle as each combatant flailed for the hilt of the dagger. Everett felt the rat bite down on his arm, and he cried out in pain. In a sudden rush of adrenaline, Everett socked the rat in his gut and tugged the bedsheet over the rat's face, pulling it back tight behind his throat. The rat gasped and clawed at the fabric stifling the air from his body, but Everett held fast, his face covered in bleeding scratches and bruises. The rat trembled violently and suddenly lay very still.

Everett dropped the corpse of the rat and stumbled to the doorway, bolting the lock and gasping for breath. Sweat poured down his cheeks as he scanned the room, looking for another means of escape. He ran over to the cot where Willow lay sleeping and shook her shoulder. "Wake up!" he whispered hoarsely, groaning as he inspected the gash on his arm. "Don't make any noise; we've got unwelcomed guests."

Everett  stumbled to the doorway, bolting the lock and gasping for breath. Sweat poured down his cheeks as he scanned the room, looking for another means of escape. He ran over to the cot where Willow lay sleeping and shook her shoulder. "Wake up!" he whispered hoarsely, groaning as he inspected the gash on his arm. "Don't make any noise; we've got unwelcomed guests."

Willow paled. She rose silently, cringing in pain from her injuries.

"T-theyre here…?" It was phrased as a question, but her eyes met Everett's head on and she gulped.

Everett nodded, pulling a small shelf back against the door to brace it. "I'd get dressed if I were you…your weaponry is off the side of your bed." He nodded to her left. "I'll see what I can find from our intruder." He squeezed around the shelf and went over to the body of the rat, setting the long dagger out in front of him and feeling around for other hidden weaponry or objects.

"Do you know who they are?" he asked as he turned the body over.

Willow eyed the body.

"The black vermin who ambushed and slew the patrol escorting me to Redwall." She cast her eyes downwards and then sighed, wincing in pain as she recovered her weaponry and sheathed it, the tanto being all the remained.

"I believe if they are already sending scouts into Redwall, than they must already have swept through the forests themselves…" She looked up and stared into Everett's eyes, shivering.

"There...can be no escape."

"There…can be no escape."

Everett stared into Willow's eyes and saw her shiver. His eyes darted to the dead body of the rat that lay next to the overturn cots, wrapped in bedsheets. If she was frightened of them…did they have a chance at all?

He frowned and extended a paw to her. "Let's go–we have to at least try to get out of here. Otherwise..." He let his voice trail off, and he shrugged. "I have a few supplies in my haversack; if we can make it to the Pantry, I can fill a few more bags before we break for the walls. After we clear those, we can disappear into the forest and wait them out. I have a few friends down by the river, and I'm sure they can help us out."

He drew out the dagger from its nestled place by his waist and handed it out towards Willow, hilt first. "I think you should have this; you're better with weapons than I am."

He frowned and extended a paw to her. "Let's go–we have to at least try to get out of here. Otherwise..." He let his voice trail off, and he shrugged. "I have a few supplies in my haversack; if we can make it to the Pantry, I can fill a few more bags before we break for the walls. After we clear those, we can disappear into the forest and wait them out. I have a few friends down by the river, and I'm sure they can help us out."

He drew out the dagger from its nestled place by his waist and handed it out towards Willow, hilt first. "I think you should have this; you're better with weapons than I am."

Willow shook her head. "No. I have my own weaponry." She patted the hilt of the sheathed tanto, her eyes briefly meeting Everett.

"Courage is never given, born or bred. It is earned." Willow unsheathed the tanto and pressed her back to the doorway, ear flat against the wood as she listened closely. She raised her paw to silence Everett, her eyes darting around the room for other methods of escape.

Finally after several tense, silent moments, she opened the doorway slowly and with great care, her paws dancing across the wood as she slid through the small opening created and out into the next room.

It was empty.

She opened the door behind her fully and gestured for Everett to follow, making her way through the infirmiry and wincing in pain as she walked towards the door back into the hallway of the upper doormitarys.

"I can see no more vermin, Everett. I think that may have been the only scout…" Willow leaned against the wall and cringed as jolts of pain shot through her body causing her to tremble slightly. "The abbot must be warned.."

Everett swallowed silently as he took the dagger back from Willow, tucking it neatly back into the waist of his pants.

"I can see no more vermin, Everett," Willow said. "I think that may have been the only scout…"

"I guess we'll find out once we step out into the hallway, eh?" Everett tried to chuckle, but the laughter drowned in his nervousness. It had been a long time since he'd had to kill, and he surprised himself at how quickly he remembered how to do it.

Willow leaned against the wall and cringed as jolts of pain shot through her body, causing her to tremble slightly. "The abbot must be warned…"

Everett sighed as his eyes scanned the hallway. "I was afraid you'd say that," he said, taking a cautious step into the darkened hallway. "That means that I'm the one who has to find the abbott…I sincerely doubt he'd be pleased to see you within the abbey--no offense."

A sudden crash caused Everett to start. "What was that?!" he cried.

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