Part One: The Northern Sea
The small, one-masted vessel slipped into the dense fog that had fallen on the north sea, leaving behind it three creatures, a weasel, a stoat, and a ferret, marooned on a rocky crag that jutted out of the ocean. The weasel was obviously the one in charge. He surveyed their scant rations- a small cask of mucky water, four brittle oatscones and a large bowl filled with a questionable substance deemed "stew". Glad of a hot meal, the weasel took the stew and tossed the four hard-tack scones to the ferret, to devide equally between itself and its partner, the large stoat. The weasel watched to see what they would do whilst sipping the hot goo in his bowl.
"Arr, 'tis 'ard luck 'pon us, mate," muttered the stoat, looking with frustration at the makings fire he had been trying to start, but with no yeild besides a few clumps of charred ashes and bits of wood. "Left on a rock in th' middle o' nowhere, wid naught but four hard scones atwixt us. Hard luck I say. Hard luck."
"Aye," agreed the ferret whole-heartedly as he slyly passed the stoat a single scone, preparing to bolt down the other three. Immediately the stoat was on his guard, paw straying toward the hilt of the longsword he wore at his side on a thick leather belt. "'Ey, that's not fair, I'm suppose to get th' same ammount wot youse is gettin'!"
"Nope, y'don't," said the ferret. "'S all mine, see!" The ferret threw several pawfuls of the burnt-out ashes at the stoat, then turned to run off with his loot. "Filthy thief, I'll teach y' ter steal, yew-" The stoat said no more, the ferret whipping out his dirk and throwing it before the stoat could draw his bulky longsword. The stoat looked down at the dagger with surprise as it seemed to appear in his chest. He slumped forward into a shambled heap at the ferret's footpaws. Quicker than wind the ferret was unbuckling the swordbelt and fastening it 'round his scrawny waist. He spotted the weasel coming toward him, daggers drawn. "Stay away, yew- stay away I sez! Th' sword's mine!"
"Fine, ye kin keep it..." said the weasel disarmingly as he turned as if to go back and sit down. Suddenly, the weasel moved like lightning. The ferret toppled into the sea with a dagger in his skull, still clutching the swordhandle in a deathgrip as he hit the churning waters with a splash. "Yew kin keep it forever!" Chuckling merrily, the weasel turned and picked up the water cask.
Suddenly he heard a moan. He peered into the mists to espy the stoat, still badly wounded, but dragging itself toward him. The weasel resumed chuckling as he placed a muddy footpaw on the stoat's neck, slowly applying pressure until the stoat stopped thrashing feebly and went silent. He turned away and saw, to his relief, a floating piece of driftwood, coming toward the rock with every gentle push of tide. Making himself fast to the cask with his belt and a length of old frayed rope, he began swimming for the drifting flotsam, singing an old searat piece as he came ever closer to it.
"O carve out me gizzard 'n' stamp me tripes, I once met a rat, all covered in stripes!
O slash me innerds an' slit me dirt throat, Sed 'e got 'em from a nasty ole stoat!
O slice me ears an'cut off me pore head, If it ain't true that that ole stoat is dead!"
The morning sunlight danced merrily throughout Mossflower Woods, leaving all beasts both cheery and pleasurable. On the south path, if one looked closer, you could see four small creatures, armed with stick and slingshot, wandering about poking at small insects and bits of vegetation aggressively. One, a molebabe armed with a slingshot, let loose a rock toward a shadow in the woods on the other side of a wide ditch. "Burr, oi spec' thee've seen the mon'ter in yon wuddlands, gurt 'orrible 'ooligun!"
The leader of them, a small shrewbabe, scowled and squinted at the shadow, then agreed with his molefriend. "Aye, 't bee's a big verminy beast, Murgee me friend. I save yew from it, don' werry 'bout 't an' run f' safety while I teach it a lessin wiv Mart'n great sword." Waving his stick the shrewbabe charged toward the shadow then felt the earth disappear from beneath his paws as he accidentally stepped into the ditch. "Eeeeeeeeeeeee..."
Splosh! "Run f' a h'abb'y, tell Sista Feroams I be sinkin' in tha gooey, Mur'ee! Run f'it 'fore tha shadda gits yew, eeeee, I be sinkin', eeeee, 'sgrikky, 'syucky, run, Murgee, run!" After Murgee and the two others, a mousemaid and another mole, sped off for the Abbey, the shrewbabe chuckled. "I be gettin' all dirky and yurky where Sista haz t' clean me all up, heehee."
Suddenly he was hauled from the ditch by several large rats. He cowered with fear at the sight of anotherbeast, dark as a cold winter's night. The specter's voice was harsh and grating, matching his color perfectly. "Ah, good work, we shall take this beast to the ship, quicklike. Move!"
And then they were gone, bearing their captive to their means of departure on the north coasts of Mossflower Country.
Captain Guljag of the one-masted galley Windclaw stumped moodily into his cabin. Ever since the searat captain had ordered his first mate marooned on that rock he had suffered jibes and scornings from the mouths of his own crew.
"Ha, yew shoulda seen brave ol' Cap'n Guljag, mates, a bolder beast I never saw!" laughed a searat. "M'rooned 'is first mate stead o' slayin' 'im in a fight, 'e did. Wot a coward, though 'e'll never be troubled by ol' Theerj- that'n's fixed fer good! An' 'e even left 'im an' 'is mates some food'n'drink ter boot!"
"Cap'n must be goin' soft, I'd say," piped a scrawny weasel. Immediately Guljag bounded out of his cabin and slew the speaker with his cutlass. "Nobeast crosses Cap'n Guljag o' th' Windclaw. Did yew 'ear me, you keelscrapin's an' deckswabs, I sed nobeast! I m'rooned those trait'rs 'cos slayin' 'em woz too quick a death fer th' likes o' them. Thinkin' now, I wish I'd 'ave keel 'auled 'em, that woulda made yew lot all jump fer joy! Yer 'ave 'earts o' black stone, mateys- Yew woulda' given anythin' ter 'ave watched those beasts plead fer mercy, an' get none." A slow smile spread across his face. "I think 'tis time fer a raid, eh, me lucky plund'rin' buckoes? Wot d'yer say, a deal!"
The crew replied in unison: "Aye aye, Cap'n!"
Guljag suddenly motioned to the corpse of the weasel before speaking. "Then now's ther time, mates! 'Oo's wid me an' 'oo's not? Anybeast 'oo's agin me gits nothin' worse'n wot those m'rooned beasts deserved, right!"
As one the crew chorused back: "We're wid yew, Cap'n! Lead on!!!"
At Redwall Abbey all was silent. A young mole, Churner seated on a small bench outside Great Hall, listened to the hubbub inside.
"He's missing, that shrewbabe Fustle is missing!" called Sister Feroam despairingly. "When I do find him his tail will be tanned!" she said more resolutely, searching in cupboards, under beds, even in the ovens. She sucked a scorched paw whilst fanning herself with the other.
"Now, now, F'roam, 'e's likely ter be anywhere," said Chummer the otter gatekeeper. "Now, I'll bet that rabbit led him on one of his liddle games."
"Led him on one of his little games indeed! Why, I'll tan that big excuse for a bunny's tail as well when I find 'em both! You there, sir, stop now!" she called to the hare, who was running off with a bundle of strawberry tarts. "You seen any Dibbuns about, mister Worroe?"
The hare did not have the wildest idea about Dibbuns. He was running away with stolen goods. "Hmm, scrnch, I think th'blightahs went thataway, marm." The Sister was so perplexed she didn't even notice the tarts the hare was jamming down his bottomless gob. She turned to go in the direction he told her to when she ran straight into a Dibbun who was weeping unceasingly. "What is it now, Murgee? Have you come to help us find Fustle or has your strawberry sunk in the pond or something?"
The mole looked up through his tears as the two other babes ran up, squeaking with fear. "We was ownly waken by thur path out yurr," began Murgee, then the tiny mousemaid piped, "Then Fustil felled inna ditch an' tol' us t' tell yew that 'e be sinikin' inna mud!"
"Sinking in the mud, in the ditch, outside Redwall! Well, I never! Cummon you three. Show me where the liddle terror is, an' you'll all get a surprise when we get back to the Abbey!"
"Oi'll show ee awlroight, Sista F'rum, ee felled roight thurr!"
The Sister peered into the ditchbed, half-expecting the shrewbabe to play one of his little antics.
The mole covered his little button eyes sadly. "Urr, 'e maister Fustle must've sinked to ee bottom of ee mud an' purish'd!"
"No he didn't, young un," she whispered gravely. "Get back to the Abbey now, Murgee, an' send Marshberry here. There are two ferrets in those bushes over yonder, across the path. Think I can't see 'em, hmph! I'll show 'em, th' babe-stealers!"
Marshberry was a large cellarhog who had moved into Redwall quite recently. He was one of the only warriors they had who had been in battle before. Beside him strolled a confident Worrolin Goldhilt Sharpeye Duckweave, brandishing an ancient halberd he'd discovered in a cabinet. He also sported a worn breastplate of beaten iron and an enormous round wooden buckler shield, which he had to use all his strength to keep at chest-height. "Show me the villains an' I'll frazzle their frizzled grubswipin' gobs, wot. Give me th' word an' I'll fight like no otherbeast you've evah seen, wot wot!"
The Sister looked despairingly at him. "This is a job solely for old Marsh. Go on back to the Abbey."
The dejected would-be warrior hare tramped off toward the Abbey."What? And not even touch th' blinkin' foebeast? Not even whack a single weasel's gizzard? The nerve of somebeasts," he mumbled, kicking a pebble moodily.
The Sister watched him go, then fell about laughing when he was out of earshot.
"Stow it, Sister," warned Marshberry, slipping toward the bush quietly. Suddenly he pounced. One ferret, wearing a peaked helmet surmounted with a spike leapt up with a howl. The grabbed his weapon, a long pike, and accidentally slew his companion. Marshberry's paw was around his neck within seconds and the pike fell out of his grip. Immediately the ferret shut his jaws. "I need some 'elp 'ere, Feroam," called the hedgehog as he lifted the ferret's footpaws. He did not even see the ferret's paw go to the dagger in its belt. In a trice it whipped it out and plunged it into its own heart. The hedgehog shook his head. "I was going to get some questions through to it when we got back to the Abbey, what a pity it slew itself. Cummon, let's go."
"Wait, what of Fustle? Surely...?" asked the Sister.
"Nay, the pore mite's not here. We'll find him though!"