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I am the Teller of Tales,

Gaze into the fire with me,

For I know of the Badger Lords,

And their mountain, by the sea.

'Tis of a fearsome warrior,

Full of fate and destiny,

Who followed dreams, along strange paths,

Unknown to such as we.

This Badger Lord was fearless,

As all who followed him knew,

And the haremaid he befriended,

Why, she was as young as you!

But no less bold or courageous,

Full of valor and strong of heart,

Aye, young 'uns like you, good and true,

May stand to take their part.

So here is my story, may it bring

Some smiles, and a tear or so,

It happened, once upon a time,

Far away, and long ago.

Outside the night wind keens and wails,

Come listen to me, the Teller of Tales!



Lord Russano of Salamandastron put aside his quill and capped a tiny gourd of ink with a wooden stopper. Leaving his study, the badger went downstairs, clutching a wooden pail full of parchment scrolls. He was met at the bottom by his wife, Lady Rosalaun, who shook her head reprovingly at him.

"So, that's where my pail went. I've been looking everywhere for it. Aren't you ashamed of yourself, pinching pails!"

However, Russano looked anything but ashamed. He held up the pail and shook it triumphantly. "Look, Rosalaun, I've finished it, my history of Lord Brocktree's journey and conquest of our mountain!"

Rosalaun smiled at her husband. He was the kindest .ind wisest badger Salamandastron had ever known, though when he was enthusiastic about his pet projects he behaved like a cheerful, eager youngster. She took hold of his inkstained paw as they walked to the dining hall. "They're all waiting, you know. Remember, you promised to read them the story once you'd completed it."

Russano chuckled. "I don't suppose Snowstripe, Melanius and the leverets would wait a day or two until I tidy this manuscript up a bit?"

Rosalaun stopped Russano in his tracks. "There's not just our son and daughter and some young leverets waiting to hear you read the tale. Word has got 'round. Every hare on the mountain wants to hear it, too!"

Russano turned and made for the stairs, but his wife held on to his paw. The Badger Lord appeared rather flustered. "Every hare, you say? You mean all of them? But . . . but ... I only meant this as something for the young 'uns, to teach them a little of our mountain's history!"

Rosalaun squeezed his paw affectionately. "That's not fair. What about us older ones, the parents and grandkin. Aren't we entitled to know our mountain's history? I for one would love to hear it. Besides, you have a wonderful storytelling voice. Oh, say you'll read it to us all, Russano, please!"

The Badger Lord allowed himself to be led off again toward the dining hall. "Oh, all right, but it'll take a few days. This is a big work. I've been two seasons now, reading through dusty old parchments, interviewing creatures for stories about their ancestors, and studying carvings in the forge. I've sat on the shore, listening to sea otters, stood beneath trees recording squirrelshuh, I've even had to crouch for four days in a mole dwelling. Had to keep waking those two fat old moles up so I could hear their story. Do you know, it was told to them by their great-grandma, who had it from her old aunt's cousin, twice removed on the uncle's side, or so they said?"

Rosalaun stood with her hand on the door latch. "Yes, yes, I know all that, Russano. It won't matter how long you take to read the thing. You can space it out, a bit every evening. Nothing nicer on a winter's night than a good story. Now, the fire's banked up, supper's on the table, and everybeast is waiting. So in you go!"

The dining hall was packed to capacity, mainly with hares, though there was a scattering of moles, squirrels, hedgehogs, mice, and some visiting otters. Lord Russano was immediately captured by his two young offspring, Melanius and Snowstripe, who tugged him up the three broad steps to where his chair had been placed next to a supper-laden table.

"Papa Papa, read the story to us, please please!"

"Are me an' Snowstripe in the story, Papa?"

Russano chuckled as he sat them down on the cushioned chair arms on either side of him. "Great seasons, you'd have to be many many seasons old to be in this tale. Now sit still and be quiet, my dears."

Silence fell over the hall, broken only by the door's opening as the duty cooks came hurrying in. Everybeast turned around and shushed them loudly, and quiet was restored once more. Russano split open a small loaf, cut a thick chunk of cheese and jammed it in the bread, making himself a rough sandwich. Every eye was upon him as he took a few good bites and washed them down with a half-tankard of October Ale. The still atmosphere was broken by a small hedgehog squeaking aloud.

"When's a Badgelord goin' t'get on wiv it?"

Russano left off eating and looked quizzically at the hogbabe. "Get on with what?"

A deafening roar rang out from the crowded hall. "The story!"

Russano looked up in mock surprise. "Oh, did you want me to read you my story?"

He clapped paws to his ears as the noise hit him like a tidal wave. "Yeeeeeeessssss!"

The small, polished hardwood stick that Russano always carried with him was lying on the table. Lady Rosalaun picked it up and waved it warningly under his nose. "Lord Russano, will you please stop teasing and read the story. Either that, or straight off to bed with you!"

Everybeast, especially the little ones, laughed at the idea of a Badger Lord being sent to bed for being naughty. Russano pulled the first scroll from the pail. Unrolling it across the tabletop, he placed his tankard on the top edge to stop it folding back. His kind, brown eyes roamed the hall, a smile hovering upon his lips as he spoke.

"Friends, I will read to you for a few hours each evening. Salamandastron's history goes back further into the mists of time than even I would dare to guess. But the mountain as we know it today, with its leveret school, Long Patrol and laws set down for all to live in peace by, is due mainly to the work of one creature: Lord Brocktree of Brockhall. It was he who was responsible for the life we enjoy herethe outer gardens and terraces, the orchards and crop-growing areas, and the wonderful chambers, so full of comfort. Other badgers were here before him, and they were all good Lords in their own fashion, but not until the time of Lord Brocktree of Brockhall did the mountain really come into its own. I have recorded the history of his early years as faithfully as I could.

"So, then, here it is. I hope you learn lessons from it, take heed of its value, and most of all I hope you enjoy it as a mighty tale of great warriors."

Book One

The Days of Ungatt Trunn

also entitled

Dorothea Leaves Home

Chapter 1

Loneliness was everywhere. Hopelessness and an air of foreboding had settled over the western shores, casting their pall over land, sea and the mountain of Salaman-dastron. Yet nobeast knew the cause of it.

A pale moon of early spring cast its wan light down upon the face of the mighty deeps, touching each wind-driven wavetop with flecks of cold silver. Soughing breakers crashed endlessly upon the strand, weary after their journey from the corners of the earth. Above the tideline, gales chased dry sand against the rocks, forcing each particle to sing part of the keening dirge that blended with the sounds of the dark ocean.

In his chamber overlooking the scene, Lord Stonepaw sat in his great chair, feeling as ancient as the mountain he ruled. In one corner, his bed stood neatly made, unused now for a score of seasons. He was far too old; the ritual of lying down each night and rising next day had become painful for his bones. Drawing his cloak tight against vagrant night chills, the once mighty Badger Lord squinted rheumily out to sea, worrying constantly about his domain.