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?
Fernleaf was now in his new element as he learned the ways of wielding Martin's sword. He was looking forward to learning the other ways when Brother Dominic burst in and asked them to quiet down or take their training elsewhere. The Recorder then left and slammed the door.
The Ferret looked at the others. "We have been making a lot of noise," he said. "Where else can we continue the training? In the place where the Tapestry is? Or can you think of anywhere else?"
"Maybe the other side of the Abbey," said Tokal. "There you won't disturb anybody."
"That sounds good, if the rest here would agree. And how shall I continue my training now?"
"I would suggest they take you through a quick overview of the other six modes of combat. It will tide you over until others come." said Tokal.
"What do you think, Divan?" said Fernleaf.
In Dominic's room, a light appeared which grew to blinding intensity then died down. A kestrel, glowing with glory, appeared to him. "I have heard your anxiety, Dominic. I am Skarlath, and am here to help you figure out the riddle." he said.
"We oughta rule out the Tapestry," Divan suggested, twirling his sheath fancily between his fingers, catching it in his laws and retying it to his belt. "I doubt Martin will tolerate the noise, or anybeast for that matter, of clashing swords. So, yes, let's go on the other side of the Abbey, where we can disturb nobeast. Dominic needs as much peace and concentration as he can get."
Squirrels, badger, and ferret made their way to the south side of the Abbey, a more isolated space roughly the same size as the Front Lawn they'd just left behind. Divan redrew his sword and the others did the same. The space was oddly empty, but for the best, as the less mortal creatures present, the less harm the swordbeasts could bring to others.
"I think there is still far more that Fernleaf can learn concerning Shii-Cho," Divan noted, nodding at Fernleaf to prompt him to keep his mind and ears open. "That set of basic maneuvers aren't enough for real combat engagements, especially among dedicated Form One specialists. We can't just let him move on directly to Vaapad without a near-perfect technical proficiency. Sorry to say so, but I don't make the rules." The young Tonaka shrugged apologetically, and Tokal brushed it off, unoffended.
"So, you have your basics, the Sun Djem, and the Sarlaac Sweep. Now, we'll build upon those and expand further. From here, I want to teach you the Seven Marks of Contact."
"Notwithstanding what has been taught, Fernleaf," Tokal assured the ferret warrior. "You are more than welcome to practice applying these Marks, but only to any non-living creature. Restrict your studies to spirits who are invulnerable to harm by even Martin's fabled blade. To cut the life off from another unwitting mortal beast this way would universally be considered all-out murder, so whatever you wish to do in review of your lectures, let us know, and the Sandeyes and myself will be more than happy to assist you - with the exception of the mother, probably. I can't imagine how she'd react to such a violence against her."
Divan went to Fernleaf, pointing out each Mark of Contact around the ferret's body. "Sun Djem, Sai Cha, Shiim, Cho Sun, Cho Mok, Cho Mai, and Mou Kei. Understand all this? I mean, if it helps you to write it down, you'd be right to do so."
Fernleaf looked entirely confused by this time. "I'll have to write it all down," he said. "I didn't know the first step was so complicated. And don't worry, I have an oath that I will never harm any goodbeast. I intend to keep that to the end."
"And I will hold you to that oath," said Tokal. "You've done a good job so far, and I trust you." he turned to the others. "I didn't mean teach him the details of the other six forms, just a quick summary of them. It will do him good to know them before he does go to Form VII."
Divan and Jared held back their laughter at Fernleaf's honest confusion, the Knight of the Wind biting his lip, and the Dawn-Bringer stuffing his tail in his mouth. The Sandeyes on the other paw laughed anyway, not needing to hold their sides or breathe through their invisible lungs. Tokal shook his head disapprovingly at their antics but was displaying a clear amused smugness unfitting for a Badger Lord.
"Don't overthink this, Fernleaf," Divan advised the ferret Champion calmly, granting himself a genuine chuckle. "We'll draw up a diagram for you, right down to the tiniest detail. The Marks of Contact are not memorized overnight, and only the truest and humble of warriors pursue Shii-Cho to mastery, as I am doing. But with a visual reference, you'll never have any problems again."
"Now what?" Jared scratched his chin thoughtfully. "We'd discuss Makashi, but we happen to have no practitioners of it here, need real professionals to tell it. Sorry we can't be of better help, Fernleaf."
Divan snapped his fingers in a sudden conjured idea in his brain. "Why don't we give him that book on the Seven Forms, something to educate hinself with for now? It'll be a fantastic reference for Fernleaf to draw knowledge from. Who's got it?"
"I have it," Jared raised his paw in confirmation. "It was written by Jarvis Richings, son of Phineas, and as such, it's been passed down through the generations of both my parents' sides of the family. While it's not exactly required reading for fledgling warriors, it makes for deep intellectual stimulation and enlightening reading nonetheless. It's in my room, and Fernleaf can have it later, or now, if you wish. What do you say, my ferret brother?"
The sudden startling appearance of the kestrel materializing on his desk, standing like a phantom with folded wings, talons pressing intangibly into his best parchment…nearly made Dominic fall out of his chair.
No. It totally made Dominic fall out of his chair.
Hurrying to his feet, smoothing out his robe to put on a humble and dignified display for the legendary bird, and clearing his throat politely, he shook his paws out of his sleeves and retook his seat.
"Must you ghosts always be so unpredictable? That said, I appreciate your appearance. Skarlath, as the Recorder of Redwall and personal Scribe of Abbot Michael...I need your help."
He reloaded his pen of ink and pointed a finger to the poem.
"I've seen many baffling verses such as these in my time, but never anything like this one. This stanza in particular is impeding my progress of deciphering and translation." Dominic seized a quick gulp of mint tea, cleared his throat again, and read aloud.
"Longears, feather, and greybeast
Are going with you.
To be good companions
In this quest so true.
I wish to know what this means. I won't jump to conclusions without your enlightening immortal truth, Skarlath. Also, could you please check my analyses on the previous stanzas, so to see if I've done so in the contexts of your original intentions?"
Dominic leaned back in his chair and folded his arms in slight disbelief, but he let his faith in the kestral show brilliantly.
"Not every day a writer is visited by the ghost of a bird. I am humbled in your presence, Skarlath, companion of Sunflash the Mace. I hope we will write miracles together."
Fernleaf laughed with them. "I was hoping you weren't going to make me memorize all that. My head would explode," he said. But that book will be a great help if you would lend it to me, Jared."
Longears, feather, and greybeast. repeated Skarlath. "That is actually one of the easiest lines, but I am always thinking of the answer. Longears: It can only be a hare, and that hare already knows. Feather: A bird, specifically a falcon, who is out there hesitating to come. Greybeast: One who is old, but who?" A mischievous twinkle came to his eyes. "Do you really want to know the answer to that? You may not like it.
And what should you know?
'Now downwards, now upwards,
The dance of the bee;
So what is the answer?
Go ask of the tree!'
Ponder that for a while, and it will come to you. As for what you have deciphered so far, you're doing a great job.
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, and the grasses fell lifelessly to the ground. "So what do you say, Champion? Is Vaapad still for you? Are you truly feeling up to the challenge?"