Dominic leaned an elbow on the table and rested his chin in his other paw, scratching it agreeably. With his quill, he penned his thoughts as he voiced them.
"Longears, a hare who knows his part in the story and whom will soon appear. We must keep our eyes out for him, this identity-less hare. Feathers, a falcon reluctant to join the fray, perhaps afraid to out himself in danger? If it were me, I'd not want to be too vulnerable, either. Greybeast…"
He stopped and met Skarlath's mischievous expression.
"If this is your idea of a joke, it's decently funny but still doesn't answer the riddle. Who is the old Greybeast?"
Skarlath shook his feathery head, still refusing to tell. Dominic bit his lip impatiently, but suppressed the urge to say any regretful words and continued to follow the kestrel's direction.
"Now downwards, now upwards,
The dance of the bee.
So, what is the answer?
Go ask of the tree!"
Dominic shut his eyes for a quick moment, recalling in detail the sounds of the swords clashing against each other as the squirrels and the spirit of the Badger Lord mentored Fernleaf in the ways of the warrior. He remembered the words they said to each other, the laughs, the praises, the step-by-step instructions, the maneuvers, and all in between. He opened his eyes and again looked at Skarlath.
"The art of the sword, some styles are almost dance-like, right? Downwards and upwards refers to movement, the bladework, the techniques, that stuff. Asking of the tree..."
"Soliburr! The molebabe's song, from yesterday!"
Skarlath clicked his beak loudly and approvingly, and felt a smile of amusement and pride as Dominic leaped for joy out of his chair and began prancing around the room ecstatically, singing a refined speech version of the ridiculous yet enigmatic song.
_"I'm a great big bumblebee,
A-buzzing in a sycamore tree.
Don't you wish you was happy and free,
Like a great big bumblebee?
One day a vermin happened to be
A-climbing up the sycamore tree.
And what did the vermin happen to see?
He saw a great big bumblebee!
The vermin said, 'Get away from me.
This here's my own great sycamore tree.'
He fussed and swatted, how mean he be,
At the great big bumblebee!
The bee got mad, you see,
And buzzed, and buzzed around the tree,
And stung the vermin on the footpaw, you see,
The great big bumblebee!
'Ow!', said the vermin, the rat from the sea,
And hopped, and hopped around the tree,
He fell with the crash and banged up his knee,
In the sight of the great big bumblebee!
And from that day, the bumblebee,
Was left alone in his sycamore tree,
Can you know one as happy and free,
As the great big bumblebee!"_
Dominic collapsed in his chair and laughed loud and long at the straightforward brilliance. The ghost of Skarlath waited for him to finish, a delighted smile on his beak.
"The answer was right there all along!" Dominic announced after he'd recovered his wits. "The song is the answer! Fernleaf is the bumblebee and the Sword of Martin is the stinger! The sycamore tree is the Abbey, or even the Forest surrounding it, and the vermin of Kelnris are trying to steal it for their own, but Fernleaf is the protector! Yes, it's been right in front of us, and we never saw it until now! Soliburr gave us the truth! Oh, he deserves the noblest thanks, that sly mole boy!"
Still chuckling, Dominic wrote down these thoughts in his analysis. Eyes twinkling like the bird's, he met his face.
"Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is, don't you agree?"
"True, great is the mind of the small," said Skarlath. "But it does not yet reveal the Greybeast."
He gave another rhyme, not in the earlier riddle.
_"Words can be a double-edged sword,
Bound together by a twisted cord.
A Greybeast who would rather stay behind
But has the ability to bring sight to the blind.
It takes a wise one to unravel the knot,
A matter that takes depth, depth of thought.
But who shall awaken the sleeper of time?
Figure that out, and you've solved the rhyme!"_
Dominic listened intently to the new rhyme Skarlath recited to him for elaboration and translation. The squirrel Recorder quickly wrapped up his thoughts on the original riddle and Soliburr's song, taking great care to ensure that his writing was legible - to both mortal and spirit - then placed his quill pen in the inkwell and began pacing back and forth along the table.
"This may sound like a stupid question, but…Is it odd that I find this more intriguing than stressful?"
Skarlath, without a moment's hesitation, shook his head dismissively, an amused but reassuring smile on his beak. "When it comes to destiny, Brother Dominic, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Every question you ask is indicative of your intelligence and insight, and it shows you truly want to learn what is being taught here. Go right ahead. Perhaps this is your destiny as well, for you to play this vital part in history. I mean to say, that your work just might save Redwall Abbey and Mossflower Forest."
Dominic smiled gratefully at the kestrel and resumed his thoughtful pacing.
"Words can be a double-edged sword, Bound together by a twisted cord.'…Words can mean countless things, with limitless interpretations. When strung together into sentences, who knows the possibilities? No two writers and literary thinkers are the same, after all. Meanings can become lost either by time or by translations of the uneducated and unlearned, the 'twisted cord'." He paused and looked to the kestrel for elaboration. "Am I getting this right? Am I on the right track?"
Much to his annoyance, Skarlath's only reply was another click of his ghostly beak, neither approving nor denying. Dominic bit his lip impatiently but did not comment, lest he accidentally slip something shameful or regrettable. He began again.
"One who would rather stay behind, but can bring sight to the blind...This creature must be greatly reluctant to take part in the conflict, probably a peacebeast of some sort. But he harbors an ability to interpret things in ways no ordinary creature can...bringing sight to the blind."
He fell back into his chair, seized a clean roll of parchment, and wrote down all his thoughts on the first stanza. Skarlath looked it over and nodded encouragingly. Dominic stood and resumed his pacing.
"'Depth of thought...Who shall awaken the sleeper of time? A wise one to unravel the knot'...Who could do all that? A creature who can see the details beneath the surface -"
He stopped, turning in place and twisting his body to gape in astonishment at Skarlath.
"Me? I...am the Greybeast?"
OOC: I'm really really praying that I've done this right! Not my best or most thoughtful.
He saw Dominic's astonishment and burst out laughing.
"I wondered how long you would get it, Dominic. Yes, you are the Greybeast! You will be needed just as much as the Champion."
He paced back and forth on the table. "I missed doing this after my passing. And now you know the answer to all the riddles."
Dominic slumped back in his seat, his mind in a dazed whirl. He couldn't help but smile and laugh at himself, at the sheer yet believable ridiculousness of it all.
"And to think, that just yesterday, I was standing up on a tall ladder, trimming the branches of a tree that had grown over the ramparts of the Abbey wall on the western side. The day before that, I was writing reports on the progress of the war. Pardon me, Skarlath, but I'm still trying to get my head around this. Greybeast, that's me!" The grey-furred Dominic slapped a palm to his forehead. "How extraordinary! How amazing!"
He wrenched himself back from his marveling before he got carried away, and sat up straight, picking up his pen again. But his brow furrowed slightly at the kestrel.
"That still doesn't answer everything. There are more verses with more answers yet to be uncovered. Like these…" He indicated them with the point of his quill. "'Beware of the troupe, So greedy, so wise, May take what is yours, To the one so despised.' 'But the deed is so fated, And shall do unseen good, Cause doom to the recipient, The commander of blood.'"
"The commander of blood, the Troupe,' does that refer to...er, whatever his name is. And the one so despised, is that...Jared Sandeye? I shudder at the possibilities of what terrible outcomes might occur if and when the new enemy arrives in Mossflower. But what say you, Skarlath?"
"You're close, but not warm enough," said Skarlath. _"A troupe is a band of minstrels or players. These are deceptive and will try to steal the Sword. As you know, any thieves who steal Martin's sword come to a bad end.
The Commander of Blood, the one so despised, is the same one, the vermin chieftain. Neither is Jared Sandeye. There is no honor among vermin, they are always trying to kill each other when they aren't trying to kill us.
Does that make it clearer?"_ He grinned.
Dominic slapped a relieved mild paw to his forehead. "Thank Martin Jared Sandeye is not our enemy! Praise be to him and to the son of the East!" He put ink into his pen and wrote down Skarlath's explanations, but narrowed his eyes somewhat dubiously at the kestrel.
"Does it make it any clearer? Somewhat, I'd say. Your mysteriousness baffles me, or are all spirits from the Dark Forest like this? You and Sunflash must've had quite the riot together in life, and it seems no less enjoyable in the hereafter. Nonetheless, I will go along with you on this quest, as I promised, and as you promised to do with me."
He finished writing and mulled over his thoughts.
"What kind of monsters would attempt to steal Martin's Sword? It has happened before, everyone at the Abbey knows that. But whom, what, and why? Just what motives, if any, would they have to attempt thievery of such a relic? I cannot imagine it. But I'll do my part to protect the Sword. I know Fernleaf will appreciate it.
The Commander of Blood…could that be? A vermin chieftain, I dare not speak his name aloud lest he appear here before me in this Gatehouse. It's impossible to see what plans he has for Redwall....or worse yet, for Jared Sandeye."
Dominic lay back in his chair, scratching his puzzled brow. He looked to the bird helplessly, hoping for some words of comfort, some measure of elaboration, some emotional aid of whatever sort. Then again, what could a bird give?
Outside, Jared was also scratching his head cluelessy. "Well, what do we do now? Fernleaf has only dented the surface of Shii-Cho training. While there is still much he could learn, if you're that needy to carry on and study the other six Forms, then I suppose I can hurry to my bedroom and get you that book, if you like, Fernleaf."
"I believe that would be best, Jared." Tikal advised. "What say you, Anithralith?"
Not waiting for even a breath of an answer, Jared bolted back inside the Abbey, weaving and slipping past Abbeydwellers going the other way to his dormitory. He dug into the drawer of his end table and removed a bronze-brown hardcover book with paper pages, fancily but well-technically titled, Ways of the Eastern Blades: Personal Explorations and Philosophies of the Seven Forms of Sword Combat, by Jarvis Richings.
Faster than an arrow, Jared practically sped himself out of his bedroom, through the halls, and out to the Lawn again, where he showed the tome to the warrior ferret.
"I'd not call it required reading, but it's highly education regardless. Every Island has a copy of this book, and even the most seasoned of warriors across the East still read it. This is all yours if you plan to read it; it's just that I'll need it back after you're finished."
Skarlath shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dominic, there are laws in the Dark Forest every much as in mortal lands. It is forbidden for us to speak too plainly about the future, so we have to speak in riddles and hope you are able to decipher them.
But you are right. We did have a blast when we were living and still do in Dark Forest."
Fernleaf took the book from Jared's paws. "Thank you, brother," he said. "I will read and study this book and hope I am able to learn much from it. Of course, the Sword teaches me a lot to its use as well."
He flipped through the book, looking at parts that he would have to read in depth.
He paused when he saw something near the end that read: Wuxi Finger Hold: ONLY TO BE USED IN DIRE NEED. He saw the diagrams and the description: fingers locked on the enemy finger, pinky raised. To implement, flex the pinky and look out! Chi explodes in every direction.
"Hmmm…let's see." He went to a straw dummy used for training. He locked it in the finger hold and raised his pinky. The instructions said the hardest part was cleaning up afterward. He then flexed his pinky. KA-BOOOM! Straw exploded everywhere and a wave of Chi erupted out. He was knocked back on his tail.
Dominic sighed in dismay and for a moment looked crestfallen at Skarlath's unhelpful and overall discouraging words.
"One riddle leads to another riddle; solve one, there's always a second. But, nobody said it would be easy, and if it was, I'd not be sitting here, now, would I? Anyway…" He thoughtfully twirled his pen between his fingers, taking great care not to splatter ink on his parchment and notes.
"All right, we're about done, aren't we?"
'Now take you the thorn,
And go forward, not back.
Hidden in a rose,
The field shall not lack.'
"We've already identified the bee and the tree, so...
'''Tis two yet is one,
Is this thing you seek,
And then it is done,
To embolden the meek.'"
Dominic stared cluelessly at Skarlath again, carefully suppressing his obvious skepticism with clear stoicism. That being said, the bird was a ghost, and could see right through him.
"The Thorn is the Sword of Martin, and the Rose must refer to the Abbey in which the legendary blade is kept. The Field, also the Abbey, shall not be in need of a defense, a Champion, for Fernleaf has embraced his calling. We are all saved by the grace of Fernleaf, and by those who support and fight with him!"
Dominic dropped his pen in the inkwell and crossed his arms over each other, raising one palm to cup his chin in it, a habit of his when thinking.
"'Two yet is one'...That makes little sense. It is the thing Fernleaf, or perhaps all of us seek, 'to embolden the meek'. How should I interpret this?"
"Well, he seems to like it," Divan observed bluntly from the side while the ferret perused the educational tome. "But he isn't speed-reading, is he?"
"Nobeast can speed read that fast," Jared dared to note, scratching his head. "He's just browsing it."
"Don't tell me he's going to…!" Edoran inhaled frightfully and his eyes grew wide as Fernleaf reached the end of the book.
"He is!" Dane gaped open-mouthed and his face turning white.
"Fernleaf!" Jared reached out after him as he went towards the training dummy. "That's not a good idea right now! Don't do it, brother-!"
A wave of Chi energy exploded, and straw rained down upon the warriors. Jared and Divan crouched on the ground and folded their paws defensively over their heads while the rush of Chi knocked them onto their tails. Edoran, Dane, and Tokal simply looked on blankly at the hailing twigs, totally nonchalant as they fell through, around, over and under them.
"Oh, come on!" Jared got up from his crouch and shook himself violently to rid his fur of its grass-like perpetrators. "We spent two-and-a-half months putting those together! That work for nothing! They're made for hitting with a sword, not with supernatural magic!"
"ONLY TO BE USED IN DIRE NEED!" Divan picked up the book that had flown out of Fernleaf's grip during the burst and subsequent launch backwards, pointing to the cautionary statement purposefully bolded for more than just emphasis. "We may have to set a restriction on that thing. If you use it on a living enemy, like a vermin, well…you won't like the result."
"How will we put this back together?" Jared stared mournfully at the bare wooden post where the dunmy once proudly stood.
"So quick, are you, dear son, to forget about us ghosts?" Dane placed a comforting kiss on his child's face. "There is more to us than simply intangilbiity and immortality. Watch, my boy." Dane pointed his paws toward what remained of the training dummy and tutted his ten fingers articulately. Jared looked on as the pieces, shreds, and scraps reformed themselves magically from a messy circle omnidirectional meters wide into their previous form. There the new dummy reappeared, good as new, reborn and remade.
Dane winked smugly at his speechless second son, kissed him one last time and roughed his hair.
"There! All set to be blown up again!"
"Well, Fernleaf," Jared shrugged at the ferret regretfully. "I hope you've learned your lesson. I say you should just focus on the sword for now and worry about learning about natural magic later. Do you understand? None of us can afford another accident here like that one."
"You are doing well, Dominic," said Skarlath. "Better than I had hoped. But now, think. How is two one? Or what can make it one?
One can defeat the lone one,
But what about two?
Can they resist?
And a threefold cord,
Cannot break apart,
Can you take this to heart?
Skarlath looked like he was laughing, but maybe he was. Setting riddles were fun.
Fernleaf lay on his back looking up at the sky.
"No, never again, never again," he mumbled.
Tokal came up and looked down at him. "Are you all right, my son?" he said.
Fernleaf sat up and spat out some straw. "It would take something horrible, a choice between...that...and the destruction of Redwall and those precious Dibbuns. I'm glad I didn't know that when I was Zagreb." He was gasping for breath, his eyes wide with horror.
"I'm glad you didn't know it then either," said Tokal. Fernleaf got up and shook himself off. "It's just the Sword or nothing." He saw the dummies were back as they were as if nothing had happened. "I didn't know you could do that, Dane. It appears that those of us in Dark Forest can do similar things. I've never tried." said Tokal.
Dane bowed low before Tokal, as if thanking an audience for applauding an elaborate magic trick. "Begging your pardons, my Lord. But I do believe you are underestimating yourself. The power is within all of us, living or dead, to do extraordinary things. We must simply find that power within our individual selves, correct?" Turning to Fernleaf, he added in counsel, "However, in all seriousness, I must ask, Fernleaf, that you not attempt to destroy those dummies again. You wouldn't believe the time and effort these boys spent in building them. I can't be around forever to keep repairing the dummies if you keep blowing them up. Understand? Thank you."
"So! Moving on, then?" Jared clapped his paws together and returned the book to Fernleaf. "Do yourself a favor. Take some to really read and study that book in the fullest possible detail. Don't be afraid to ask questions when they come to your mind. You'll find incredible insight into both the act of reading and the act of questioning. Your mind must always be open. Remember that."
"Jared is right," Divan added, twirling his sword between his fingers and paws. "Vaapad isn't learned overnight, neither should you expect it to be! Look at me, I've stuck with Shii-Cho all my life! I'd never want any other Form than that most basic of them all! Is any judgement worth that?"
Edoran telekinetically pulled any stray straw and grass lingering in Fernleaf's mouth and teeth. "Hold still, let me just... open wide, stick your tongue out...now clench your fangs, there you go! You're clean again!" Edoran laughed and lowered his paws. "So what do you say, Champion? Is Vaapad still for you? Are you truly feeling up to the challenge?"