Saturday, November 27, 2004

Twenty-seventh Day

In which our heroes encounter Redwall Abbey and Cluny the Scourge.

It was really nice to take the last two days off. Too nice, perhaps. But I'm so close now. Just a few more days and a few thousand more words. I think I can I think I can I think I can I think I can.

Chapter 35

Seamus and Cassidy stood in front of the main abbey gate. The walls towered above them, and Seamus might have wondered about this, given that it was an abbey supposedly inhabited by mice and other such creatures. However, he was still slightly stunned at the fact that he had gotten them here on his own, with no help from his journal. It was incredible, and the amazement of it felt almost like the very first time he had bibliomorphed at all. Cassidy though was watching him with a smile on her face, as if she had known he could do it all along, and was pleased that he had finally figured it out for himself. She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

"Well done," she said.

At that moment a tremendous voice boomed down from the top of the abbey wall.

"Who goes there? Friend or foe?"

Seamus and Cassidy looked up to see an enormous badger up on a parapet looking down on them. Though size was hard to judge at that angle and distance, it looked to be at least twice the size of either of them. Apparently the bibliomorph had scaled them down to fit in a book about small woodland creatures, rather than leaving them human size, which would have put them over the height of Redwall Abbey itself.

"We are friends," Seamus called back, wondering how on earth they could explain themselves. The badger had taken a better look at them by this time, and they knew it was plain that they didn't belong.

"Friends you say? But what manner of creatures are you? I've not seen your like in all my many seasons." The badger was joined now on the wall by a mouse and a hedgehog, both considerably smaller than the badger, and both carrying stout wooden staves.

"We are called humans," Seamus said. "We… aren't from around here." He felt a little lame with nothing better to say, but he knew that human beings didn't exist in any of these books at all, so there would probably be no way to give any better explanation. He could see the badger looking at them perplexedly. But then the hedgehog on the wall broke in.

"Hold on! I've seen one of their kind before!" he exclaimed. The badger, the mouse, Seamus and Cassidy all looked at him in equal surprise.

"Ambrose," the badger growled softly, "have you been at the October ale again?"

"No I haven't, and by me spikes, I'm not lying! It was one like them – a little smaller and a darker color perhaps, but just like these two, no doubt about it. No tail, flat face, strange clothes and no fur, except on its head."

Seamus and Cassidy felt their stomach jump at this. Gabriela was here somewhere, had been seen in this book. Cassidy called up to the wall this time.

"Where did you see her? We need to find her!"

"It was with the rats," replied the hedgehog. "I was on my patrol of the woodlands to warn the other creatures. I heard a gang of Cluny's rats approaching and hid myself while they passed. They had with them the one I just described, but I didn't know what it was."

"With the rats, eh?" the badger growled, louder and more menacing this time. Seamus and Cassidy also gave a shudder of horror at the mention of the evil creatures that had recently invaded Mossflower and were planning on laying siege to the abbey.

"Friends of Cluny the Scourge and his rats are no friends of Redwall Abbey!" shouted the mouse, who had been silent up until this point. "Be gone from here! Go back and tell your leader he can't get spies into Redwall that easily!" He picked up a stone and hurled down at them, who dodged it. The badger restrained him with an enormous paw, then addressed Seamus and Cassidy again.

"Matthias is right," she said. "I don't know what you are or where you have come from, but these are dangerous times and we cannot afford to take chances on creatures that consort with the enemy. We will have to ask you to leave."

Seamus was disappointed at having been taken for an enemy, but they had gotten the information they needed. Like it or not, Gabriela had been taken captive by Cluny and his horde. There was no point in involving the creatures of Redwall in her rescue – they were about to have enough troubles of their own. After a quick, whispered discussion with Cassidy, he spoke to the animals on the wall again.

"We apologize," he said, "and we meant no harm. But we thank you for the information and we will leave you in peace now."

Seamus and Cassidy turned back to the road, and the badger, the mouse and the hedgehog disappeared behind the wall, most likely to go make a report to the Abbot, or consult with the ancient gatekeeper mouse to see if any creatures like these had ever been heard of before.

Seamus tried to recall the map that had been in the front of the book, and wished he had studied it more carefully before they had left. He knew that the rats had taken over the old, abandoned Church of St. Ninian, so that would most likely be where they were keeping Gabriela. And as far as he could remember, one would have to turn left on the road coming out of the abbey to get to St. Ninian's, so that was the way they went.

Though dismayed, Seamus had not been terribly surprised to find that Cluny had taken Gabriela. Judging from the location of her bookmark, she had just finished a chapter about the rats' arrival, so that may have influenced where she landed when the Book took her in. Also, the rats were really the only possible culprits in the story. The inhabitants of the abbey, though on their guard now, were too peaceful, and not the kidnapping types. They would have seen that Gabriela was a frightened child, regardless of her species, taken care of her, and given her back when Seamus and Cassidy appeared. The rats would be a far different story.

They had been walking for about an hour when they finally caught sight of the church steeple rising up out of the trees ahead of them down the road. They slowed down cautiously, then decided to move off the road so they could travel with more cover. Keeping well under the trees and bushes, they paralleled the road until they came to the church.

Seamus and Cassidy crouched in the bushes. They had come up behind the church, and were looking at it across the cemetery. A wrought iron fence surrounded it, mangled now that so many of its iron spike railings had been wrenched out for use as makeshift weapons in Cluny's horde. Getting in, of course, would be no problem. What worried them was that the place was swarming with rats, hundreds of them, along with an assortment of weasels, ferrets and the occasional stoat. They could see the vermin milling around the church, sharpening weapons, dozing or picking fights. They knew Gabriela must be held captive somewhere inside, but there was no way to get to her.

Then suddenly there was a hideous yell, and an enormous, hairy figure landed on each of them, crushing them to the ground. Seamus and Cassidy tried to struggle, felt the claws tugging at their arms, smelled the stink of dirty fur, leather and steel. But they were quickly overpowered. Their hands were bound roughly behind them, and then they were rolled over onto their backs, with daggers held to their throats.

Crouched over them were two enormous rats. Compared to Seamus and Cassidy's current scaled down size, they would have been well over six feet tall. Their bodies were scarred and powerfully muscled, their teeth long, yellow and sharp. They wore leather armor and each had a second long knife on his belt. The one holding Cassidy leaned over to get a good look at her face, keeping his dagger to her neck and digging the claws of his other forepaw into her chest.

"Well looky here, Mangefur," he said in a low, scratchy voice. "Looks like the Chief was right. We did find two more of 'em."

"Don't be a fool, Ragear," the other snapped. "Of course the Chief was right. Now just see if you can help me get 'em back to him without botching it like you did the last expedition."

"Don't go laying that on me again, now. You know perfectly well it was you who wanted to go up the blasted road to forage instead of to the fields, I – "

"Oh quit yer whining. Let's just take the prisoners in." The one called Mangefur yanked Seamus to his feet. "Can't say as I know what the Chief wants with 'em, though. You ever seen anything like these before?"

"Never in me life. Maybe they're good to eat, though, eh?" The two rats laughed as they marched Seamus and Cassidy towards the entrance to St. Ninian's, occasionally jabbing at them with a dagger, or giving them a shove to watch them stumble.

Seamus and Cassidy were both silent, but they knew at least one part of their problem had been solved. They now had a way into the church.

Chapter 36

As they entered the Church of St. Ninian at dagger-point, Seamus and Cassidy were instantly accosted by hordes of other vermin, all jostling and shoving to get a better look at the two strange creatures that had been taken prisoner. A weasel jabbed a claw into Seamus' side, and Cassidy smelled the rank breath of a rat that had thrust its sniffing face into hers. Another creature tried to grab at them, and their two original captors had fight off the pressing crowd.

"Get outta the way, ya scum!" shouted Ragear, kicking aside a rat and shoving a ferret out of the way. "These are Cluny's prisoners, an' he'll have your guts for garters if any of you lot so much as scratch 'em."

Mangefur grabbed a small cudgel from a nearby rat and started laying into crowd. A few of the beasts were knocked down or sent scurrying and the rest backed off, leaving them a path. As the prisoners were marched through the church, they could hear rats whispering and muttering all around them.

"… never seen anything like it…"

"… where's all their fur, now?"

"… don't look like they could put up much of a fight, eh?"

Seamus glanced next to him at Cassidy. Like him, she had a few scratches, and was probably feeling a bit battered by the initial capture, but she seemed more or less alright. No serious injuries at least. She was staring resolutely ahead of her, ignoring the looks and jeers of the rats around her. Seamus started to lean over to her, to whisper something encouraging, but Mangefur gave him a shove that sent him stumbling forward.

"Eyes front!" the rat shouted at him. "And no talking!"

They came to the back of the church and headed up a curving flight of stone stairs. At the top they found a wooden door that Seamus guessed must have lead to the Churchmouse family's old home, that Cluny had now taken over for his headquarters. Ragear seemed to gather his courage, then knocked on the door.

"Enter!" boomed a voice from inside. Ragear cringed involuntarily but quickly caught himself, not wanting to show fear before the captives. He opened the door and marched in as boldly as he could, with Mangefur prodding Seamus and Cassidy in after.

"Sir!" said Ragear, snapping to attention. "We have brought you the prisoners you wanted!"

Inside the room was an enormous rat, far bigger than either of the two that had captured Seamus and Cassidy. He was completely black, and covered with scars, and his long, whip-like tail thrashed about him as he paced the room. One eye was covered by a black patch, and he wore a black cape fastened with bones. He was Cluny the Scourge, and he looked like it. He stopped pacing and glared at the two rats and their prisoners.

Looking around the room, Seamus could see a few pieces of smashed furniture, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Churchmouse's bed, which didn't look like it would last much longer in use by a giant rat. In one corner stood Cluny's war standard, a banner pole with the skull of a ferret on top. And in another corner, sobbing quietly, was Gabriela.

She was tied up, and obviously frightened out of her mind, but she seemed unharmed. When she saw Seamus, she called out to him but was quickly silenced by a menacing glare and snarl from Cluny. She tried to push herself farther back into her corner, and continued crying quietly.

Cluny swung back to face his newest captives, studying them intently while Mangefur and Ragear grew more nervous.

"Leave them here with me," he growled at last. His voice was a dark rumble of sound. The two rat soldiers shifted uncertainly, still hoping for some praise on a job well done, and reluctant to leave their prisoners.

"I said LEAVE!" Cluny roared, lashed out with his tail and catching Ragear on the shoulder with it. The two panicked at that and scampered out the door, slamming it behind them and jostling each other to be the first back down the stairs.

Cluny stared at Seamus and Cassidy for another minute, then began pacing again. As he paced, he muttered to himself. Finally, he spoke to them.

"I don't even know what you are," he said with contempt, his foul whiskers brushing their faces.

"We're…" Seamus started to respond, but was cut short.

"Silence!" Cluny gave him an effortless shove with one paw that sent him stumbling into the wall behind. He started pacing the floor again. "There's something wrong about you. You don't belong here… you don't belong anywhere. You shouldn't even exist… and yet you do." His voice was growing softer now, as though talking to himself again, but they could still make out the words. "I don't even know how I knew to find you. The first one was an accident, but then I knew that others would come after her and that they would be the important ones. But what are they? Why are they important?"

Cluny stopped short and jerked his head up as though he had just had an idea. He strode over to Seamus and Cassidy again and grabbed them each by the front of their shirts, pulling them in close and onto their toes.

"You are important…" he muttered. "No…" he sniffed at them each in turn. "Just you," he said, looking at Seamus and flinging Cassidy aside. She landed in the corner over by Gabriela, but Seamus' field of vision was filled by the evil rat's face, and he couldn't see if she had been hurt.

"Yes, it's you," Cluny said, still sniffing at Seamus. "But why? What is it about you?" Then he froze for a second and his eyes seemed to glaze over. Then he shook himself and focused on Seamus again. He set him back down, releasing the grip on his shirt, which now had several claw holes in it.

"Ah, yes," Cluny said, with an evil grin spreading over his face. His voice seemed different now, smoother and less rat-like, but still menacing. "Welcome back, Seamus."