Some twenty moves and six captured pieces on either side later, Jared was beginning to wonder if there existed a point of playing this game in the first place. It was his favorite board game, though left wondering what real motive Zakrul possessed for making him play it. Why play the game in the middle of a cold and chilly underground dungeon?
Jared made a swift move with his last knight and pushed away his opponent's only remaining bishop. A bit of a risky move. Jared didn't really care. He just wanted to get the damn game finished so he could find Pearl.
"So, let me guess, this is your plan of vengeance?" Jared asked curiously, a drop of sarcasm evident in his voice. Zakrul wasn't amused and narrowed his blood eyes. Jared didn't notice and continued. "You plan to beat me in a chess game to avenge your brother Nagrig?"
In a flash, Zakrul had drawn his blade from its sheath and against Jared's throat. The squirrel was smirking, but the pitch-black rat was heaving in his futile attempt to suppress anger and hatred.
"You… ," Zakrul growled menacingly. "You would dare think that my plan to destroy you and your kingdom, to avenge my younger brother is a board game? No, Jared. You know nothing of what is to come. This is only the beginning."
Zakrul leaned further across the table, nearly messing up the chessboard, and dug his blade deeper into his enemy's neck, nearly to the point of shedding blood. But Jared didn't budge; his smirk remained, perhaps out of contempt for his enemy, and vague loathing for the relative of the vermin who had turned his life into hell.
Zakrul snarled in Jared's face; the squirrel could clearly smell his terrible tobacco-laced breath. The chess game went unnoticed and discontinued.
"Just you wait, Jared. I will hunt you to the ends of the earth if I have to. I will make you feel pain and torment beyond what you can imagine or comprehend. Your complacency and inborn arrogance as a so-called king will be the downfall of you and the Sandeye bloodline. Even if you are a king, as you claim, I will risk everything to deny you!"
At this, he withdrew his sword, sat down again on his tree stump. His eyes were calmer now, but his fists were clenched under the table.
"Forget this stupid game. I was really only stalling for time. Neither one of us have won; neither one of us has lost. Take your daughter if you may, but know this, I will follow you like your shadow, like your worst nightmares. Go on, your daughter is down the hall to my right. But do not forget what has transpired here!"
Without a word, Jared grabbed the chessboard and flipped it over, causing the chess pieces to fly everywhere. Zakrul remained unaffected and unflinching in his seat. Jared grabbed his sword and sprinted down the stony hall, tuning enhanced ears for his daughter's voice. Zakrul watched after him with a somewhat sinister grin pulling at his lips.
The last pieces of either color to fall were the Kings.
Jared stopped at the thick metal bars that made up Pearl's makeshift holding cell. At the sight of the King's steel sword shining as a white beacon in the black darkness, Dunkel and Traich dropped their weapons in terror; and with their paws tight behind their heads, knelt down frightfully on both knees, and spoke not a daring word.
"Daddy!" the young squirrelmaid cried out with joy. She ecstatically spoke to her doll. "See, Cosette? I told you Daddy was coming to get us!"
Bradley sheathed the sword of Martin once more before grabbing the downed creature by the headfur, yanking its head backward, forcing its body up. "Like I said, Weasel, I have zero patience and time for any games."
The weasel knew he was a deadbeast if he told Bradley too much, which made him think. "Hmm.. Beware of the darkness in the trapdoor, Mouse." He managed to say. He continued. "Zakrul's favorite place in one of our many camps. You'll be surprised at what you might fall into, or even witness! You fools don't stand a cha-…" Before he could keep going, stars shot out in his vision before turning completely black.
Brad growled with great disgust with a clenched, but shaking fist. The Champion of Redwall had struck the weasel in the back of his thick skull with all of his might, knocking it out completely cold. He looked up to the sky, as if he were seeking answers to this sick creature's warnings. "Martin, if you were here, what would you do in this situation?" He said letting out a big sigh. The burly mouse warrior took the slack end of the rope and just dragged his prisoner with him as he continued on cautiously into the base. He thought about the warning and the apparent trapdoor that would lead to something.
Oliver smiled and led Lucas around the camp, still unknowingly to Bradley, that they were very close to one another. They were so close that if Oliver only took Lucas to one of the sides, the duo would run into Bradley and his weasel prisoner. They kept on walking, looking for clues, or at the very least, any sign of life. Oliver's instincts kicked in a bit and he started to realize that something wasn't right. Why weren't any soldiers on patrol? Why was it so quiet? He couldn't put a paw to how silent and devoid of life the outside was. It seemed to him that they were hiding something, or somewhere! Perhaps an ambush? He didn't know for sure, but he made sure to let Lucas know to be on guard.
All their answers lay in a small trap door that the weasel warned Bradley of. That is where they would find everything. Unfortunately, Oliver was unaware of its existence and Bradley had no clue where to search. Oliver thought to go see if Bradley made it to camp and took Lucas to go searching around the site. Hopefully, they would run into each other and figure this out.
Father and daughter, sprinting with all the energy their squirrel feet gave, through this unfamiliar underground dungeon. Jared held Pearl by the paw, her little doll tucked securely into his trouser pocket.
They turned the corner where the tree-stump seats had been. Zakrul and his chessboard disappeared; the chess pieces had all been properly tidied up and taken away. It also seemed that Zakrul had snuffed out all the torches as well before clearing out. A room abandoned, totally bare and nearly pitch-black.
Then Jared felt it.
It pierced the cold unstable air, ringing in Jared’s ears and flooding his head. Jared promptly dropped his daughter’s paw and slumped over, his legs giving way, and his palms holding his skull in the sudden sharp stabbing pain. A voice, brooding and threatening, joined the agony.
"Do you feel that, Jared? Do you feel it? Your mind is tearing itself apart!"
Jared was already screaming out loud, heart-wrenching and hurting his lungs. Pearl could do nothing but look on, utterly horrified and speechless. Her doll began to slip from his pants pocket, and she grabbed it just in time. The adult Sandeye paid no heed to her; the horror was not in her head, only in his.
Then the visions came. He could see them in the most perfect of detail.
His parents - his mother Amida and his father Dane - knelt on the shore, their paws and feet bound together by thick string rope, helpless as Nagrig Deathblade raised his namesake sword to mercilessly slay them.
Mercilessly, angrily, loudly, the disembodied voice continued.
"Do you remember now? Do you remember what made you who you are? Remember what happened, what the course of history demanded to bring you to life? The King inside you does not exist just for nothing. Countless upon countless sacrifices were made just to bring about your birth! Remember, Sandeye, remember!!"
Edoran sprawled spread-eagle on the ground, a spear through his left shoulder and bleeding. Feebly, he lifted a paw to take the family medallion from his neck and drop it on the ground, surrendering and accepting death.
"Now, understand what brought us together. Fate, destiny, vengeance, and anger! The blood scorches us in our bodies and in our souls! The truth is obscure and refused to us! Answers, if there be any, are covered up in the shadows of the darkest corners of our minds. We did not meet by choice or by happenstance! It is because we are destined to fight each other forever until one of us gives in to death. Because it must happen!"
Painstakingly, meticulously, Galum Sandeye - Jared's grandfather on his father's side - penned on parchment the Eastern Prophecy. This event, the denotion of the first time in history that such had been recorded in written structure, once in the past passed down through the generations by means of oral tradition. The candle beside him blazed low, the moon was high in the sky, his quill pen dulled, and his inkwell ran slowly empty. The parchment as well appeared old and worn with heavy use, nearly tattered and ripped. Yet, courageous as Galum ever was, dismissing his burdening tiredness, he fearlessly pressed on; both wanting and needing to make sure that each and every single last word, accentuation, and expression recorded, wanting to make and record history, in the hopes that this Prophecy would one day come true.
Fear. The word for it. In his fragmented mind, Jared had little doubt that the terrible voice was Zakrul’s, sharply provoking and torturing him in his head. He could not force himself to cry out loud anymore as his energy rapidly drained from him.
Pearl could take no more either. She grabbed her father by the shoulders and began shaking him desperately, hot tears appearing in her eyes and her voice crying out in loud trepidation.
"Daddy! It’s all in your head, Daddy! Don’t listen to him! Listen to me and shut him out! Daddy!!"
"Listen, Sandeye! Our contention does not end here! I will hunt you without cease! No island, no barren cave, no undersea hole where I won't search for you! When your broken body lies before me, your mind in shattered pieces, only then will justice be served, and long-sought retribution rewarded! Blood, whether mine or yours, will be stained on our paws forever. It cannot be washed away!"
On the surface, Lucas dropped down from a tree behind Oliver. As if by sheer instinct, he pressed his ears to the ground and closed his eyes to listen for something. The sounds of screams – two different voices, one male and female, the former older than the other – reached his clear ears.
He recognized them instantly.
"Oliver!" Lucas instantly sprung to his feet and snapped two claws together to get the wrestler squirrel’s attention. "I found them! They’re underground! There’s a trapdoor around here, I think right under us! But it sounds like they’re in trouble! We have to hurry!”"
Oliver didn't waste any time after being brought to Lucas' attention. He crawled around on all fours until he bumped into something. “I found it!” He called over to Lucas in a hurried tone of voice. This also brought Bradley to attention.
The Champion of Redwall dropped the rope he was using to drag the downed soldier of Zakrul and just left it there unconscious. He ran over in a full sprint to Oliver and Lucas right before the squirrel warrior opened up the trap door.
“There you guys are!” Brad stated with relief in his voice before drawing Martin's sword once more. “We better be prepared for what might be in store..” He said, following Oliver down into the trap door. Brad already had an idea of what might happen, and he knew to always be on his footpaws, incase of any danger.
“Lucas, stay next t' me.” Oliver knew that Lucas could fend for himself, but being the youngest and being Jared's offspring, he knew that he felt responsible for anything that could happen. The larger squirrel didn't want anything happen to the young one. Bradley followed from behind, making sure to keep watch from the back for anything suspicious. Zakrul's crew were very loyal and very deadly creatures. Brad knew their intent from having one of them as a prisoner from his journey to the camp.
Oliver kept his eyes peeled as he looked for Jared.
The visions had long passed now, Zakrul’s antagonistic voice faded away into silence. Jared was sitting on the ground, his paws falling from his head down to his sides. His eyes were shut, his brain was attempting to process what had happened, what he had just seen inside his head. No speaking, no moving, not even breathing.
“Come on, Pearl,” he spoke at last, his voice solid and firm once more. “Let’s get out of here. I think we’ve had enough of this place, and Zakrul’s fake hospitality. The sooner we get back to Little Redwall, the sooner you can have some food.”
Jared brought himself up to his fullest height, and joining paws with Pearl, father and daughter took to their getaway once more. They turned yet another curve and almost couldn’t believe whom they saw.
“Oliver! Brad!” Jared cried out in amazement.
“Lucas!” Pearl said in equal surprise.
Lucas rushed over and embraced his younger sister tightly. Pearl, grateful to see her older brother and her friends, almost started to cry a little bit, but in happiness as opposed to distress. Lucas picked up Pearl and hoisted her on his shoulders. Jared watched them head toward the exit before setting his eyes on Oliver and Brad, looking them square in the eyes.
“Guys, follow me. There’s something here I think you ought to see.”
He hurried back to the tree-stump seats, with the table on which Zakrul had challenged him to the chess game. Using some spare matches found on the ground, he relit the torch and laid its light on the table. The squirrel waved said torch over his head as a beckoning for his friends to follow.
“Our good enemy had a chessboard set up here, and we played a game. What his plan was, I don’t have a clue. However, that doesn’t mean I’m without my hunches. Something was both right and wrong about it; I just can’t place what it is. It’ll take some time for me to get my head around the whole idea, but there’s no doubt that this wasn’t any happenstance.”
“Dad!” Lucas’ voice broke his father’s thoughts from the opposite side of the hallway, clearly to some degree getting impatient. “What’s up with you? Come on, let’s go! Mom, Alan, and Aunt Madeline will be waiting for us!”
Jared lifted the small beacon again to signal his son. “Yes, Luc, we’re coming! Just go and meet us topside, all right? Keep your sword close!” The son gave his consent and left with his sister on his shoulders.
The extreme earnestness in Jared’s eyes reflected heavily in the orange-yellow torchlight, and vice-versa.
“Hear me out, both of you: whatever Zakrul implied with chess, of all games, isn’t something to be taken lightly. Chess means something to him. It’s all technical, mathematical. What’s more, I won’t rest until I make sense of it all. Now, it’s time we leave these terrors behind. We’re going out the same way we came in, boys!”
Oliver and Brad were pleased to see their friend in one piece and sound. It made the uneasiness of being in the camp grounds vanish suddenly.
[“Guys, follow me. There’s something here I think you ought to see.”]
Oliver nodded, as did Brad, before following Jared to where they were beckoned to come. It seemed odd to have a chessboard placed in the underground bunker of a tunnel. As the champion of Redwall, Bradley thought hard about their nemesis and his reasoning behind this all. Being the protector of the Abbey needed more than having fighting prowess and courage; you also needed to be able to think logically.
[“Hear me out, both of you: whatever Zakrul implied with chess…]
Brad could only think of one thing, “Placement!” It all came together in his head before he spoke aloud. “The chessboard is symbolic of our placement, he’s trying to set us up, he wants us to do certain things at certain times. The more we go by his rules, the more we fall into his claws. If we don’t play things correctly, this can turn out badly for all of us, he’s forcing us into his checkmate..”
Oliver made sense of this and spoke up. “I see, so that’s what this freak is up to.. We better be careful, but fer now, Jared is right. We need t’ go back as we came in! C’mon, lets get back t’ my village.” Oliver led the trio out of the tunnels and into the light, catching up with Lucas and Pearl, and reaching back to the village.
The village was restored to its once regular peace, and one big wrestling creature was ready and waiting..
Lucas and Pearl reached Little Redwall first. After Lucas had put her down on the ground, the first thing Pearl did was rush to their family. Larina (with Alan in her travel pack) and Madeline were standing by the infirmary tent, holding their arms out to hug Pearl. The adult female duo exchanged words and cries, overjoyed beyond description to see the squirrelmaid child safe and sound. Lucas joined them shortly afterward.
Jared hurried to his mate’s side, his eyes immediately falling to the well-treated wound in her shoulder. “So by my speculation, that arrow wasn’t a poison?”
Larina stood up and kissed him softly on the lips. “No, my darling, it wasn’t a poison. The vermin’s intent wasn’t to kill me but to get me out of the way. So they tipped the arrow with a paralytic; dispose of me to get to you. Basic, but ruthless.”
“That bodes well. I’m just relieved that you’re alive.” Jared agreed with an equally affirmative nod. A strong tap on his own shoulder made him turn around, and a wide smile spread across his face. “Hey, there, Ox! Glad to see you’re all right, too!” He threw an arm around Ox’s back. “You ready to wrestle? You owe me after I saved your life.”
“Dad!” Lucas came running up to him, a comparative energetic blaze in his sandy eyes. “I want to ask again: may I ask your permission to fight in a wrestling match, too?”
Jared thoroughly considered this for a moment, then answered with the following: “Lucas, I’m afraid I have to say no. Please understand. If it’s not too much trouble. It’s for your own good, your physical well-being, and most importantly your health. We’ll discuss this later, OK?”
A distinct scowl spread across Lucas’ face, and he shut his eyes to abstain from looking at his father without flinching. With a disappointed sigh, Lucas walked away, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the wrestling area as possible. Behind his back, the Sandeye son stuck the tip of an arrow straight up in the air, a sign his father knew well that his son wanted nothing more than to be left unbothered for the moment.
Although very much stressed by his son’s rebellious attitude, coupled with his unusual and antagonistic encounter with Zakrul (and to add insult to injury, Brad’s remarks and hypotheses concerning the vermin’s psychology of chess), Jared pushed all this to the back of his mind, and led Ox back to the wrestling tent.
Oliver and Brad just sat back, making sure the rest of the wrestling tribe was alright. They let Jared tend to his family while they made sure Oliver’s family and friends were alright. “I’ll tell ya mate, if they weren’t warriors, this coulda ended up ugly! Glad everyone was alright.”
Brad answered back to his taller squirrel friend with a nod of agreement. “Yes, that was a good show if I do say so myself.. I was surprised. Didn’t know such a small group could do so much fending off!”
[“You ready to wrestle? You owe me after I saved your life.”]
Oliver’s ears twitched as he heard Jared speaking to the burly mouse wrestler, Ox.
Ox grinned with an approving toothy grin before replying. “Yeah, you’re right. I do owe ya, one friendly competitive wrestling match in the sand pit. Comin’ right up!”
Oliver looked a bit dejected at Jared’s reply to his son’s interest in a wrestling match. Wrestlers usually started to learn around his age, sometimes even sooner, much like Oliver did. The basics always started with wrestling before learning paw to paw combat combined with acrobatic movements, such as parrying and dodging. Oliver’s only exception was that he learned how to be a boxer specifically with his wrestling.
Oliver pulled Jared to the side before they went into the wrestlers area. “’Ey, Jared. I ‘ave an idea. Maybe I can teach yer son t’ properly wrestle an’ fight with ‘is paws after th’ end of our adventure. Whaddya think? It’ll make ‘im that much of a fine warrior an’ successor to you in later years. I am one o’ th’ combat specialist trainers at Redwall for all the guards. I think yer son would surpass us eventually.”
“’Ey, Jared. I ‘ave an idea. Maybe I can teach yer son t’ properly wrestle an’ fight with ‘is paws after th’ end of our adventure. Whaddya think? It’ll make ‘im that much of a fine warrior an’ successor to you in later years. I am one o’ th’ combat specialist trainers at Redwall for all the guards. I think yer son would surpass us eventually.”
Jared took a moment to consider this. He was already feeling remorseful and angry at himself for having turned away his own son. He mentally examined all the details of Oliver’s proposal.
“Yes, Oliver, I believe it would be best. Please go speak to him. Tell him his father is sorry for hurting him. I think he went off that way, towards the main gate, if not on the other side of it already.” Jared pointed a finger to the west.
He then followed Ox into the wrestling tent, cracking his knuckles and stretching his body. His enhanced ears caught the sounds of giggling and laughing. The elder Sandeye lifted his eyes to catch a pawful of young squirrelmaids (preteens and late adolescents, and Brook Swiftstream among them) standing together in a tight corner, acting like immature smitten schoolgirls. Jared couldn’t scold them; they were just playing around, being teenagers. Head simply shook in light amusement, but gave them a friendly smile and courteous bow the same while joining Ox in the ring.
To his right, his family was assembling (sans Lucas) to watch the fight.
Lucas happened to be exactly where his father predicted: outside Little Redwall, sitting in a tree, back turned to the village. Silent, brooding, stressed and hurt. Rustling leaves and heavy pawsteps got his attention; in an instant, Lucas turned around, an arrow locked on his bow. The young Sandeye relaxed upon seeing whom it was.
“Oh, Oliver. Thank Martin it’s just you. What do you want? Here to instill more doubt in my mind, to argue that my father’s right and I’m wrong? Here to put a pinch more salt in the wound? ”
“Yes, Oliver, I believe it would be best. Please go speak to him. Tell him his father is sorry for hurting him. I think he went off that way, towards the main gate, if not on the other side of it already.”
Oliver nodded and patted his smaller friend on the shoulder, “Thanks mate.” The larger squirrel ran off toward the main gate in pursuit of Lucas.
“Oh, Oliver. Thank Martin it’s just you. What do you want? Here to instill more doubt in my mind, to argue that my father’s right and I’m wrong? Here to put a pinch more salt in the wound?”
Oliver came to a halt of his short running spurt as he found the young one exactly where Jared said. “No, that is not what I came ‘ere fer. I came ‘ere with a proposal, one yer father agreed with me.” In a flash, Oliver was right next to the small squirrel in the tree, his exceptional speeds as a seasoned tree climber showing great talent. “First an’ foremost, Jared apologizes fer what ‘e ‘as done. ‘E didn’t mean it. It ‘as definitely been a stressful an’ long day fer all of us.” Oliver continued as he sat tall next to the younger creature. “Second, ‘ow ‘bout I take ya under my paws, become my new trainee. As you know, I am th’ instructor an’ teacher of many warriors in th’ main Abbey back at Redwall. I’ll teach you everythin’ I know- paw to paw combat, wrestling, acrobatics, an’ th’ like.”
The larger squirrel stuck out his bandaged paw and smiled at the smaller squirrel. “You thought me an’ yer dad were strong now, wait until you train under me, you ‘ave a ton o’ latent potential within you. Eventually, you’ll surpass both of us in fighting capability, speed, an’ vigor. So ‘ow ‘bout it?”