Wildcats and Feral Cats! Backstory for Felines from the Northlands
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Greetings, readers! This page is all about the backstory of the wildcats and the feral cats of Brian Jacques' Redwall series. Jacques gave us precious few tantalising details about the history behind such characters as Riggu Felis or Verdauga Greeneyes, but left much of it up to our imaginations. This is an expanded and detailed history of the felines, written by myself with the assistance of ACR, the Redwall Wiki and the books themselves.
This backstory can be used by anyone if they want to.
PART 1 - OUR LAND SO WILD AND SAVAGE
The Northlands and Eastern Lands are vast territories of untamed wilderness. There are many petty kingdoms and principalities, each with a dominant species. Wildcats, pine martens, pure ferrets, highlander squirrels, sea otters on the High North Coast, to name a few. They have keeps, or castles if they are powerful, small armies and a hereditary system of family rule. Slavery is practiced by most major clans, but wildcats will not enslave feral cats or their own kind. They consider it intolerable that any feline be enslaved by other clans. The feral cats are a slave race and are subjugated and traded across wide areas. They are prized for their strength and their unique fur. Tri-coloured fur and blue eyes are popular traits for feral cats as domestic slaves.
There is much hatred bred between the different wildcat families. Grudges and disputes can last for generations. Wildcats are often proud and aggressive; they are easily insulted and quick to draw their swords to defend the honour of their family name. It is traditional for wildcats to learn the history of their ancestors, their ambitions and their achievements. As a result, most wildcats feel pressure from an early age to live up to their ancestors, and to bring glory to the family name.
It is during this period that Lord Verdauga Greeneyes abandons the kingdom of his father, King Mortspear, and takes his family and army South into Mossflower, establishing the castle of Kotir. We can show that it was this early, as there were no feral cats in the Thousand Eye Army, indicating the Greeneyes' rule predates the liberation of the feral cats from enslavement. The invasion of Salamandastron by Ungatt Trunn, older brother of Verdauga, also takes place during this time period.
PART 2 - A WILD WINTER
The grievances of the wildcat kingdoms must be settled. The wildcat warlords resent having diplomatic relations with kingdoms ruled by what are considered vermin species, such as the powerful clans of pine martens, who are prolific feral cat slavers. The ruling families of wildcats, including the Hellebores, Nettlecrests, Willowvanes, Rosethorns, Lookharts, Slyes and Felises, are involved in various marriage alliances and agreements to conquer the territories of pine martens and all lesser beasts, and split up the spoils amongst themselves.
In order to achieve superiority over the pine martens, the wildcats spend a good deal of their wealth on mercenary armies. Their own armies are only a glorified local militia, unused to aggressive campaigns across the wild. They recruit armies from the East, even bloodthirsty pirates from the coast, and conscript most of their able-bodied subjects. The invasion of the pine marten territories is brutal and swift, meeting little opposition. The pine martens are crushed and scatter to the four winds, a once-proud race reduced to nomadic life, persecution and exile. The feral cats of the Northlands, for the most part, are liberated from slavery. In return for this generosity, most swear fealty to wildcat lords, which affords them land ownership, which is a very important factor in a beast's status in wildcat society. Feral cats become a kind of knight class, powerful warriors worth ten times a crew of pirates or sellswords from the East. Sensing an opportunity, the wildcat lords betray the pirate captains and burn their ships to ash, slaughtering the corsairs in droves.
It is at this time that an army of two-hundred feral cats, under the command of Lord Kasra Felis occupies Green Isle, slaying High Queen Rhulain Wildlough. This establishes the Felis family as the rulers of Green isle for several hundred seasons.
PART 3 - THE EXOTIC EAST
The wealth of the Northlands is now under the control of the wildcat clans. Vermin and woodlanders are basically serfs, afforded some protection from bandits and slavers, but required to work to produce food, cut timber and extract minerals from the mines. The clans are unhappy still, as slaver gangs continue to roam and kidnap the slaves of the wildcats to be transported and sold in the lands to the East. The tipping point for war comes when slavers abduct a number of feral cats, which are still treated as a popular luxury slave in the East. This gives the wildcats pretext for an anti-slavery crusade into foreign territory, conveniently taking all the riches of eastern kingdoms as they advance. This is not to suggest the motives for war are deceitful, the wildcats are genuinely outraged by the perceived insult to feline kind.
All does not go smoothly. This is the first time the wildcat clans have attempted to fight a war in foreign territory. Communications begin to break down between each army that invades, as the messengers are unfamiliar with the large expanses of terrain, and there are no accurate maps available. As such, the armies of the Northlands struggle to work as a cohesive military. This invading force is not headed by one commander, each army is headed by a powerful wildcat noble, and officers of the army tend to be related to each other. As such, there is rivalry between the different armies, hatred between the feuding wildcat families and their feral cat allies, and little motivation to try and work together. Using guides, intuition and luck, a few vermin keeps and woodlander villages are taken, and feral cats are freed from bondage, and most join up with the wildcats, passing along whatever information they've overheard as slaves.
The war loses impetus after these initial strikes; supply trains slow down armies and become cumbersome, and the general lawlessness of this new wilderness keeps the armies on constant guard against bandit raids targeting their food supplies. These bandits know this country like the back of their paws, whereas the wildcats struggle to adapt. Additionally, some unfamiliar disease is laying many soldiers low, and the healers are overloaded with work. Some more petty kingdoms are defeated and other slaves freed, but ultimately, after many seasons, the wildcats are forced to march back home, tired, sick, and hungry. Little do they know the worst is yet to come.
In terms of chronology with events in Mossflower, it is around this time that Cluny the Scourge attacks Redwall, the subsequent kidnapping conducted by Slagar the Cruel, and the defeat of Malkariss. It is also around the time that Ublaz Mad-Eyes is killed. Ublaz himself is a legacy of the war against the pine marten clans of the Northlands. His family was exiled following their defeat, and he became a corsair.
PART 4 - WOLVERINES!
The armies returning from the war in the East might have been hoping for a rest from marching and killing. However, they had not yet begun to fight. The return to find the Northlands under attack from the most terrifying beasts imaginable, from a land thought too cold even for the pelts of the thickest and toughest wildcat. Wolverines and their white fox and ermine subjects are wreaking destruction about the wildcat clans. Castles are under siege from all sides, and no village is safe from a vicious raid. The invaders feast on the still living bodies of those they maim. Even to the hardiest of beasts, it seems as if Hellgates itself has opened up. The following war will be nothing short of apocalyptic.
No beast in the Northlands is occupied with anything other than the war effort. The minerals dug from the earth go into weapons, armour and shields. When there is a shortage of iron for chainmail, the Northlanders take to skinning the white-furred bodies of their foes and making leather armour from that. Some even strip down the bodies of fallen wolverines, hoping that by eating their flesh and wearing their skins, they can somehow ingest the wolverine's raw power. The food only goes to the armies, because every beast is in an army, one way or another. No noble sits out this war, every wildcat and feral cat family member is expected to help in some way. As such, every battle is a tragedy, because it's the felines that the wolverines want to devour the most. Families are wiped out on the same battlefield, entire dynasties go missing overnight. The toll on the vermin and woodlander population is immense. To complicate matters, the mercenary armies are barely under wildcat control, and loot the land at will with no restraint, causing suffering even for those they fight for.
The darkest hour comes during winter. Most Northlanders have no immunity to the diseases brought by the mercenaries from the East and South. Food is scarce, and the snow falls thick. Death wipes villages clean off the map. Castles lie empty and abandoned, not because they can't be defended, but because there's nobeast left to fight over them. Something like a third of the population of the Northlands is lost to cold, disease, hunger, and battle. The attrition visits near obliteration for the invaders. The wolverines reluctantly retreat back to the Land of Ice and Snow, with the threatening promise that one day, they'll come again. The Northlands are left shattered, the wildcats and their subjects suffer together as they try to rebuild their home.
It was during this period that Gulo the Savage slew his father, Dramz, and set off to Mossflower by ship to pursue his brother, Askor. It may be argued that Dramz was weakened by the war with the Northlands, allowing his stronger son the chance to take over his kingdom. Also, the pure ferrets of Riftgard Fortress were defeated by Trisscar Swordmaid, the fortress itself being overtaken by woodlanders seeking to establish a kind of Redwall Abbey of the North. They succeeded, as the attention of the wildcats was focused on the wolverines.
PART 5 - PAX FELIS
The memory of the disease and destruction brought by mercenary armies on Northlands soil encourages wildcats to raise more professional standing slave armies to defend their hard-fought realm from the occasional wolverine raid, bandits, or attacks led by other vermin kingdoms from the East. The use of mercenaries is now considered a last-resort option, as mercenaries and pirates are hard to keep under control. The feral cats are an established part of the hierarchy of the Northlands, and maintain the tradition of being armoured warriors alongside the wildcats. Foreign slave gangs are weakened by the drop in demand for feral cat slaves abroad. Firstly, the smarter petty vermin kings and lords of the East fear another feline anti-slavery crusade. Secondly, this new generation of feral cats has been born and raised entirely free, and they have been educated with stories of the battles with wolverines, the vermin to the East, and the war against the pine martens who had made keeping feral cats as slaves so prominent. As such, it would be difficult for any prospective slaver to break the will of this young generation of feral cats, much as many woodlanders raised free resist, and ultimately destroy their captors.
This long period is considered relatively peaceful, compared to the three major periods of war that precede it. However, there is still plenty of violence between antagonistic wildcat clans. The heads of the noble houses rarely meet; there are spies in every court. It is during this time that Riggu Felis is defeated and the feral cats of Green Isle are slaughtered, though this does not mark the end of the Felis clan. This is also a time of growth, and development in the Northlands. Greater castles with thicker walls are built, villages repopulate areas left barren after the war. Tapestries are woven to tell of the deeds of each clan. Songs are composed and music fills the halls of the nobles once more, after such a long, grim silence. Feral cats for the first time have the chance to learn to read and write, understand mathematics, engineering, art, and history.
PART 6 - PRESENT DAY
The Northlands are still a hostile wilderness, deadly to those inexperienced in traversing the snowy mountains and dark forests. A second invasion of wolverines from the Land of Ice and Snow has commenced, every Northlander from the wealthiest wildcat to the lowliest weasel has seen battle. Alliances forgotten during the peacetime are being rekindled as old noble wildcat houses are dying. The greatest challenge that faces the wildcats and feral cats is their own blood feuding. It is during this present period that Lady Claudia Hellebore leaves with her loyal followers and armies and marches into Mossflower, following a family dispute.