Oooo, a contest! How fun!
Two heavy knocks roused Trane the gatekeeper from his evening nap. He coughed quickly to disguise the remnants of his snoring and rose to his footpaws, wiping at his eyes and hoisting his spear. "Who's there?" he called past the gate.
"Burr, 'tis ee turrible colden noight, Maister! May'n 'umbler trav'ler beg a bowl'ee zoup 'n' cruster 'ee bready?"
Trane slid the narrow view slot open and spotted a hunched figure buried in tattered cloth, carrying a haversack and crooked staff with a lit lantern fixed at its top. A gust of wind whipped through the slot and sent a shiver down Trane's back.
"Aye," the squirrel said, closing the slot and opening the gate for the traveler. "Redwall Abbey welcomes you to stay with us for the night." He scratched at the top of his head as the odd traveler hobbled inside the abbey's walls. "Though I can't imagine why a mole would be out in such cold weather?"
"Me neither," the traveler said, raising his neck through the layers of assorted cloth. Trane blinked and gawked.
It wasn't a mole–it was a mouse!
"Hey, you're not a mole!" Trane cried, stamping his spear on the ground.
"Never said I was!" the traveler called over his shoulder. "Eyes upwards!"
Trane looked up in time to juggle a large, green apple headed for his nose. He finally caught it in time to hear the traveler's giggles disappear towards Cavern Hole.
"You sure I cannae get you anythin' more?" Deckerdon frowned at the meager display of food on the table and twitched his left ear--the one that tended to droop. The hare sniffed and turned his attention to the elder mouse who sat down at the table.
"I see cheeses, I see fruits, I see steamed vegetables...even fresh fish from Thalon and his mates." The mouse tucked a napkin into the front of his habit and smiled at Deckerdon. "Perhaps a glass of iced lavender tea, to wash this all down?"
"Och, the drinks!" Deckerdon smacked himself between the eyes with a potato-laden spoon and hurried off for the kitchen. "Dinnae eat before I pour you a glass, Master Martin!"
Martin chuckled at the hare's display and reached for a celery stalk--
--and blinked when he heard someone bite into it next to him.
"Grand display," the traveler said, noisily chewing his bite of celery in the seat next to Martin's. "Though you need more desserts!"
"Not before the main meal," Martin chided, cutting a slice from a warm loaf of bread. He slapped a generous amount of strawberry butter across the top and handed it to the traveler. "Besides...Deckerdon would have me wash the kettles if I had dessert before dinner!"
The traveler accepted the bread and bowed to his host. "Thankee." He swallowed the bread in two bites.
Deckerdon returned with several pitchers of drinks and halted at the table. "Och, I dinnae know you were expecting..."
"An unexpected friend," Martin finished, smiling at the traveler. "I'm sorry we didn't tell you."
"No troubles, Master Martin!" Deckerdon said with a smile, setting the tray of drinks on the table. "What can I bring for your friend?"
The traveler sat back in his chair and began counting on his paws. "Leg of fowl, pies of chocolate and cherry variety, lemon custards, shortbread...anything with shortbread, actually,...and, ah--oop!" His chair began to fall and he reached out and caught the table.
"Just some soup for my friend," Martin answered, raising an eyebrow at the traveler. "He can share what I have here, too."
"Very good, Master Martin." Deckerdon nodded and disappeared into the kitchen again.
"What'cha do that for?" the traveler growled, pouring himself a goblet of October ale. "You nearly broke my neck, upsetting my chair like that."
"Don't be greedy, Gonff," Martin said. "You can eat well, but from the looks of you Columbine's already got a place reserved for you to be displayed."
"Oh, blatherskite!" Gonff waved off Martin's jab with a pawful of cheese. "My wife feeds me like I'm starving, bless her!" Gonff gobbled the cheese and then leaned forward towards the graying warrior. "But I have other matters for you, you old rogue."
"Beg pardon?" Martin asked, between sips of his tea.
Gonff wiggled his paws, and suddenly produced a stained piece of parchment. "I was told to give this to you--and you alone."
"What is it?" Martin asked, his eyes searching the document as Gonff unfolded it on the table.
Gonff smirked. "I don't know what it means, but I figured you would..."
Martin's eyes scanned the short lines written at one of the parchment's corners:
'Those who are asleep
Will wake anew again.
Return to where you began.
Follow the winding, crooked path
And enter into Great Hall.
Your fate lies within Redwall.
Nine they are who shall return
Yet seven must remain;
Seek the one who crawls alone...
They you shall retain.
Nine they are who shall return
But one shall leave with me...
Your sword still wields for thee!'
Martin looked up at Gonff and smiled.
"A riddle!" they cried in unison. They both began to cackle and slap each other on the shoulders until Gonff sat up at a shout coming from the hallway.
"Eeeep, that would be my signal to leave."
"Oh Gonff, what did you do now?" Martin asked with a groan.
"Nothing terrible!" Gonff said, raising his paws in defense. "Only…perhaps...maybe...impersonating a mole to gain entrance to said abbey?"
Martin sighed and shook his head. "You old rogue," he said with a smile.
"Before I go," Gonff said, reaching into his haversack. He pulled out a medium-sized package and handed it gently to Martin. "A gift...from the missus and me."
Martin carefully unwrapped the ribbon and pulled away the paper, revealing a vibrant rose as bloody as a peaceful sun-kissed sky, planted in a small green vase.
"A laterose," Martin whispered.
"Until we meet again, Warrior Mouse!" Gonff cried from the hallway.
Martin smiled and brushed a stray tear away. "Bless you, Gonff," he whispered. He cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the parchment. "Well, my dear puzzle...what clues do you have for me?"
"Master Martin!" Deckerdon cried, dropping a dish of custard. "You ate ALL the food?"
Martin blinked and turned to the table, and only then noticed it was absent of all food. He snickered and then suddenly turned very serious.
"Yes," he said somberly, rubbing his stomach. "And I believe I need to retire to my bed for the night."
Deckerdon nodded slowly. "I hope you at least tasted some of it?" he said with a moan.
"It was wonderful," Martin said, rising to his footpaws. He folded the parchment and tucked it into one of his pockets, lifted the rose carefully and gave Deckerdon a pat on the shoulder. As he began climbing the stairs to the dormitory, he thought he could hear Gonff's giggle echoing somewhere deep in the abbey, and he smiled to himself again.