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Authors: Brian Jacques

Loamhedge

BOOK: Loamhedge
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Loamhedge

 

An
Ace
Book / published by arrangement with the author

 

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©
2003
by
The Redwall La Dita Co., Ltd.

This book may not be reproduced in whole or part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. Making or distributing electronic copies of this book constitutes copyright infringement and could subject the infringer to criminal and civil liability.

For information address:

The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

The Penguin Putnam Inc. World Wide Web site address is
http://www.penguinputnam.com

 

ISBN:
978-1-1012-2024-5

 

AN
ACE
BOOK®

Ace
Books first published by The Ace Publishing Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

ACE
and the “
A
” design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.

 

Electronic edition: August, 2005

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Redwall
Mossflower
Mattimeo
Mariel of Redwall
Salamandastron
Martin the Warrior
The Bellmaker
Outcast of Redwall
Pearls of Lutra
The Long Patrol
Marlfox
The Legend of Luke
Lord Brocktree
Taggerung
Triss

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman
The Angel's Command

Seven Strange and Ghostly Tales

The Great Redwall Feast
A Redwall Winter's Tale

The Tale of Urso Brunov

Redwall Map and Riddler
Redwall Friend and Foe
Build Your Own Redwall Abbey
Tribes of Redwall: Badgers
Tribes of Redwall: Otters

For my good friend Martha Buckley,
who inspired my Martha.
For Heather Boyd,
who cheered me from her hospital bed to mine.
and
To the memory of two brave warriors:
Nolan Wallace, who became Lonna Bowstripe,
and Eric Masato Takashige Boehm,
who fought the good fight.

Prologue

Have you been travelling, my young friend? Come in out of the darkness and rain. Sit by the fire, eat, drink and rest yourself. Life is one long journey from beginning to end, you know. We all walk different roads, both with our bodies and our minds. Some of us lose heart and fall by the wayside, whilst others go on to realise their dreams and desires.

Let me tell you a story of travellers, and the paths they followed. Of young ones, like yourself, sometimes uncertain of their direction, and often reluctant to listen to the voices of sense and wisdom. Of a mighty warrior, set on a course of destiny and vengeance, unstoppable in his resolve. Of an evil one and his crew, cruel and ruthless, bound on a march of destruction and conquest. Of a simple maid and her friends, homebodies whose only aims were peace and well-being for all. Of wicked, foolish wanderers, chasing fantasies and fables, consumed by their own greed. Of small babes who dreamed small dreams, not knowing what the future held in
store for them. And, finally, of two friends, faithful and true, who had roamed many highways and together chose their own way.

The lives I will tell you of are intertwined by fate—good and evil bringing their just rewards to each, as they merited them. Listen whilst I relate this story. For am I not the Teller of Tales, the Weaver of Dreams!

1

Lashing rain, driven by harsh biting winds from the sea, scoured the land from the bleak salt marshes to the stunted scrub forest. Abruc the sea otter bent against the strain of a loaded rush basket. It was tied to his shoulders and belted across his brow to stop it from spilling backward.

Holding on to his father's paw, young Stugg trotted alongside, plying his parent with interminable questions, which Abruc did his best to answer.

“H'are you veddy veddy strong?”

Scrunching his eyes against the wind, Abruc could not help smiling at his inquisitive little son. “I have t'be strong. I've got to feed you, your mamma an' the whole family. That's my job, I'm a father.”

Stugg sucked his free paw, digesting this information whilst he thought up another question. “Den why can't Stugg sit atop of your basket no more?”

Abruc adjusted the belt to ease the strain on his neck. “Because you've growed since last season. Yore gettin' to be a big feller now, a fine lump of an otter. Soon you'll be carryin' yore ole dad an' the basket. Let's put a move on, Stugg, so we can make it into the woods by dark. It'll be good to take a rest out o' this weather.”

With the sound of the grey northeast sea pounding in their ears, both the sea otters squelched through the desolate salt marshes toward the weather-bent scrub forest.

 

Daylight ebbed into early evening as they entered the shelter of the trees. With a grunt of relief, Abruc swung his basket to the ground. It was brimfull of edible seaweed, scallops, mussels and shrimp—a full two days' work, gleaned from the coast of the barren northeast waters. Abruc sat on a fallen pine. Sensing his father's weariness, Stugg climbed up behind him and began gently rubbing his brow.

Abruc relaxed, sighing gratefully. “Hmmmm, that's nice. I was beginnin' to think that strap'd cut the top off me skull. Huh, where'd I be then?”

Stugg giggled. “Wiv a half offa head, silly ole farder!”

The sea otter cautioned his son. “Hush now, not so loud. There might be Coast Raiders about. Huh, they'd cut the tops off'n our skulls, just to watch us die.”

Wide-eyed, Stugg crouched down against his father, speaking in a hushed whisper. “Mamma says Coaster Raiders be's naughty vermints!”

His father pushed dry pine needles into a small heap, shaking his head grimly. “Naughty ain't the word for that scum. They're evil, cold-blooded murderers. Cruelty is just fun to the likes o' them. Right, young 'un, I suppose yore hungry now?”

Nodding eagerly, Stugg whispered, “I'm starfished!”

Abruc chuckled.
Starfished
was a word all the young ones used, a cross twixt
starving
and
famished.

He patted Stugg's head fondly. “Nothin' worse'n a starfished otter. You stay here, keep yore eyes'n'ears open, an' lay low. I'll go an' find us a snug berth for the night.”

He pulled a sack from under his cloak, tossing it to his son. “Sort through the rest of those rations an' see wot you want for supper. I'll be back soon.”

 

Abruc knew the woods well, he recalled a spot not too far off. It was a good dry place, sheltered by a rock ledge. Silent as a night breeze, he weaved his way through the dark, twisted trees, straight to the exact location. He had camped there before. Halting slightly short of his destination, he paused. Something did not feel quite right about the area. Abruc sniffed the air and listened carefully, his animal instinct
aroused. He caught the faint sound of ragged breathing. Drawing his long dagger, he crept forward, peering keenly into the shadows, his neck hairs bristling.

 

For supper Stugg had selected two flat loaves, some of his mamma's apple and blackberry preserve and their last flask of plum cordial. If his father lit a fire, they could make toasted preserve sandwiches and warm cordial. The young otter was a pretty fair cook, often having helped his mamma to prepare meals. There was not much else to do but wait in silence for his father's return. Stugg set out the food and sat next to the basket of supplies.

 

Abruc came speeding out of the darkness to his son's side. Crouching beside Stugg, he gripped his paws tightly. The sea otter's voice was urgent and breathless from running.

“Listen carefully, little mate. Could you find yore way back home to our holt on yore own?”

Stugg was taken aback by the unusual request. “Er, I fink so, what's a matter, farder?”

Abruc gripped his son's paws tighter. His voice sounded harsh. “Answer me—yes or no! Could you find yore way back home?”

Stugg had never seen his father like this. He nodded, his own voice sounding small and scared. “Yes, Stugg know d'way!”

Abruc released the young otter's paws. “Good, now here's wot y'must do, son. Find Shoredog. Tell him to bring the crew to the spot by the rock ledge, he'll know where I mean. Say that they best bring rope, canvas an' poles. Enough t'make a stretcher to carry a wounded, giant stripedog. That's if'n he's still alive when they reach here.”

Words poured from Stugg's mouth like running water. “A giant, a stripedog, a wounded one? I never see'd a giant stripedog afore! What happened? Will he get deaded . . .”

Abruc grabbed Stugg and shook him, something he had never done before. He hissed at him through clenched teeth. “Shut yore mouth, son! Don't stand here askin' questions! Go now, run, don't stop for anythin'. The life of another creature depends on you. Go!”

Young Stugg took off like a madbeast, pine needles scattering from under his paws as he tore homeward through the nighttime forest. Abruc watched until his son was out of sight, then gathered up their belongings and dashed back to the camp beneath the ledge.

Swiftly he heaped dry pine needles and cones with a few twigs. Using the steel of his knife blade against a chunk of flint, he soon had a small fire burning. It was sheltered by the overhanging rock and could not be seen from a reasonable distance. Abruc viewed the scene around him. Two badgers, one very old, the other about two seasons into his adult growth, lay stretched out, side by side. Small and grizzled, the oldest of the pair was obviously dead, slain by various weapon thrusts. As he turned to the younger badger, a brief glance at the churned-up ground and the blood-flecked rock confirmed the sea otter's suspicions. His jaw clenched angrily. “Dirty murderin' Raiders!”

The younger badger was still alive. Abruc had seen one or two badgers in his lifetime, but not as big as this fellow. He was truly a giant—tall, deep of chest and broadbacked with massive paws and powerfully muscled limbs.

The sea otter winced as he inspected the fearsome wound to the badger's head. A long jagged slash, from eartip to neck, had ripped across the badger's face. Narrowly missing the eye, it had ploughed across the brow, through the wide-striped muzzle, across the jaw line to the side of the creature's throat.

Abruc, with only a limited knowledge of healing, staunched the blood with his cloak. Lifting the badger's head, he cradled it in his lap, dabbing away at the dreadful rift and murmuring to the unconscious beast.

“Seasons o' salt, matey, 'tis a miracle yore still alive! Y'must have a skull made o' rock. I know you can't hear me, but don't worry, big feller, our crew will do the best we can for ye. There's one or two good healers at our holt.”

Abruc sat rambling away to the senseless badger, knowing he could do little else until help arrived.

 

It was close to midnight. Rainladen wind hissed through the scrub forest, carrying with it salt spray from the thundering
seas. Beside the guttering embers of his little fire, Abruc had dozed off, still holding the badger's head.

At the front of the otter crew, Shoredog pointed with his lantern, hurrying forward. “There they are, mates!”

Little Stugg reached his father first. “I bringed them, farder!”

Abruc patted the youngster's paw. “Yore a good ole scout. Unnh, somebeast get me out from under this giant's head. Me limbs have gone asleep on me from holdin' his weight.”

Willing paws assisted him upright. Shoredog shook his head as he viewed the injured badger. “Great seasons, lookit the mess the pore creature's in. I fears there ain't much hope for 'im. I never set eyes on a wound bad as that 'un!”

Stugg caught sight of his mother and tugged at her paw. “Issa giant stripedog goin' to die, mamma?”

Abruc's wife Marinu nodded at Shoredog's grandma, Sork. “Not if'n we can help it, Stugg. Come on, crew, get some warm blankets around that badger an' strap him to a stretcher. Easy now, don't jolt the pore beast too much.”

Everybeast knew that Marinu and Sork were the best healers in all the southeast.

Stugg grinned broadly. Now that he had succeeded in his mission, he proceeded to take charge of the situation, striding about and issuing orders. “You all hear my mamma, pick dat stripedog up careful!”

Marinu was about to pull her son to one side when Abruc murmured to her, “Let the young 'un be, he did well tonight.”

As the otter crew manoeuvred the huge badger onto the huge stretcher, Shoredog gave a surprised bark. “Blood'n'thunder, lookit that!”

Beneath the injured creature a mighty bow and a quiver of long arrows lay half covered in the loose sand and pine needles. The badger had fallen backward upon the bow, his hefty bulk breaking the weapon in two pieces. One jagged half was stuck into his hip. Marinu halted the bearers until she and Sork had extracted the splintered yew wood. The big fellow grunted faintly as they padded and dressed the wound.

Stugg jumped up and down triumphantly. “He be's alive, d'stripedog maked noise!”

Old Sork looped the birchbark quiver over Stugg's head. It scraped the ground, the arrows were taller than he. Sork shooed the young one aside. “Aye, mayhap he is. Now you carry those an' stay out the way.”

 

A score of otters bore the badger off on a litter of pine poles, sailcloth and rope, padded with dead grass and soft moss. Stugg stayed behind with his father and Shoredog to bury the dead badger. It was only a shallow grave, but they found slabs of rock to top it off with. Abruc wedged the two pieces of broken bow, with the string still joining them, into the foot of the grave. They would serve as a marker. All three sea otters gazed down at the sad resting place.

Abruc shook his head. “Pore old beast, we don't even know wot name he went by. He looked weak, an' small. A badger that age should've spent out his seasons restin' in the sun. I wonder wot kin he was t'the big 'un. Mebbe his father?”

Stugg pressed his face against Abruc and wept. He could not imagine anybeast losing a father. He sobbed brokenly. “Who would kill someone's farder like that?”

Shoredog looked up from smoothing the earth around the stones. “Only beast I knows who kills like that is Raga Bol.”

The name struck fear into Abruc. “Raga Bol! Has he been here?”

Shoredog stood upright, dusting off his paws. “While you an' Stugg were gone, Rurff the grey seal visited our holt. He saw the Searats' ship wrecked on the rocks, further north up the coast. Raga Bol an' about fifty vermin crew came ashore. They headed down this way, but pickin's are scarce on this northeast coast, so they've probably marched inland. They ain't got a ship anymore. I was just rousin' our crew to search for you an' Stugg, when the young 'un comes runnin' to tell me you need help.”

Shoredog took one of the straps on Abruc's basket. “Let me help ye with this, mate, 'tis a good haul.”

They set off back to their holt, with Stugg stumbling over the quiver of long arrows.

Abruc shrugged philosophically. “It's a bad spring, cold an' stormy. Let's hope summer's a bit better when it comes. At
least we won't have Raga Bol an' his villains to worry about. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky, really.”

Young Stugg hitched the arrows higher on his back. They still dragged along the ground as he muttered aloud. “More luckier than d'poor stripedogs, I appose.”

A brief smile crossed Shoredog's weathered face. “That young 'un of yores is growin' up quick, mate!”

 

Dawn glimmered chill and blustery over the heathlands some two leagues west of the northeast sea. Wet, hungry and dispirited, Raga Bol's crew of Searats huddled round a smoking fire down a ravine. They stared miserably at a deep, rain-swollen stream running nearby. From further up the bank the vermin could hear their captain's shrieks and curses rending the air.

Rinj, a sly-faced female, gnawed at a filthy clawnail, glancing from one to the other. “Ye t'ink Bol's lost the paw? I t'ought Wirga cudda sewed it back on, she's a good 'ealer.”

A lanky, gaunt rat named Ferron picked something from his teeth and spat it into the stream. “Sewed it back on! Have ye gone soft in the skull? Last I saw, Cap'n Bol's paw was 'angin' on by a string o' skin. We should've stayed well clear o' those two stripedogs!”

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